The Thing about Luck by Cynthia Kadohata
Summer Miyamoto is positive that her family is completely out of luck. Nothing is going right for them at all. Her parents had to return to Japan because of a family emergency, leaving her behind with her grandparents and little brother, Jaz. Now the four of them are heading out to do harvest season for the first time without her parents. Summer and Jaz have to get all of their homework assignments, so they really don’t have the time off. Summer is also expected to help her grandmother cook for the others working on the harvest, so she is very busy. But she isn’t so busy that she doesn’t notice the very cute son of the people they work for or the problems that her brother has making friends. She is also worried about her grandparents from the pain in her grandmother’s back that incapacitates her at times to the exhaustion that her grandfather seems to be suffering from. All of this weighs on Summer who just wants the bad luck to end but it may take Summer being something her grandmother would not approve of to save the family in the end.
Kadohata has created a very compelling story of a family who travels the United States harvesting wheat with giant combines. She offers just enough details about the machinery and the process for readers to understand it which helps make the work much more understandable. But this book is far more about this particular family and its dynamics. The grandparents offer a unique mix of sage advice and confusing world views. Jaz, the younger brother, is a great example of a very smart child who has almost no social skills. All of these characters are written as complete people, not ever stereotypical.
Summer herself is equally well drawn. She is at a confusing time in life in general, being a pre-teen who is starting to notice boys. That is complicated by her grandmother’s old-fashioned take on boys and girls as well as her own responsibility for her family that puts her in situations that require her to be more adult and less child.
A beautiful and intense look at a Japanese-American family struggling with an interesting lifestyle and just surviving a year of bad luck. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.