Friday, January 10, 2014

The Thing about Luck by Cynthia Kadohata

The Miyamoto family has had a year of bad luck, 12 year old Summer tells the reader, a year without Kouun.  Summer came down with near fatal malaria after being bitten by a mosquito, her parents have had to leave Kansas to care for her great grandparents in Japan and now she and younger brother Jaz, 10, have to go on the wheat harvest with their grandparents, Jiichan and Obaachan.

Working as "wheaties" to get money to pay the mortgage, grandfather Jiichan drives a combine and grandmother Obaachan cooks for all the "wheaties" with help from Summer.  Narrated from Summer's point of view, the novel is more thought driven than plot driven.  Summer reflects on mosquitoes, about which she is completely obsessed, even keeping a book of her mosquito drawings and slathering herself in DEET.

She worries about Jaz's inability to make friends, even while she thinks about how annoying he can be.  Jaz has been diagnosed with ADHD and OCD.  His obsession of the moment is LEGOS and as Summer points out: who would Jaz be without his obsessions?

It seems that Obaachan is always mad at Summer, and Summer is always annoyed with her grandmother.  Yet, she willingly helps Obaachan, even taking over the cooking when her grandmother's back pain gets unbearable.  There are two Obaachans, Summer decides, a good one and a bad one.  The good Obaachan stayed by her bedside when Summer was so sick with malaria, the bad just finds continuous fault with everything she does.  Yes, Summer devotes quite a bit of space to this generational tension.

And bad luck continues when Summer's first kiss turns out to be a bust and the guy a jerk.

A year without luck is hard.  But this is Summer's coming of age summer, so when a crisis comes up, she realizes that it is up to her to finally help change the families luck, to get a little Kouun back.  Is she up to the challenge?  And it is a big one.

Oh, and in case you were wondering what the wheat harvest is all about, or what a combine is, she devotes quite a bit of space to explaining all about, the vehicles used and how it is done, complete with drawings.  Sound dull?  Amazingly, it isn't.

The Thing About Luck is a very agreeable novel and homage to the migrant workers that harvest our wheat.  Kadohata's characters are wonderfully strong, and the dynamic between Summer and her grandmother is funny, poignant, snarky and completely realistic.  Summer's obsession with mosquitoes after receiving a malaria carrying bite from one the previous year is just spot on behavior for a somewhat hypocondrical a 12 year old.  But Summer is also a hard worker who understands that her elderly grandparents may not be about to do the kind of hard manual labor that harvesting requires and that life could easily change for the worst for the Miyamoto family.

One of the things I found most interesting in The Thing about Luck is that no one really thinks about their Japanese identity.   Jiichan, Obaachan and Summer all seem to just accept their life in America and Japanese culture, traditions don't seem to factor into it very much.  On the other hand, the Miyamotos are not stereotypical either.

I found this to be a excellent, well written novel.  And now, The Thing about Luck is the 2013 National Book Award winner.

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL


  1. I saw this one at the bookstore yesterday. The cover is excellent and the story sounds wonderful. Without a doubt I will be checking out The Thing About Luck. :)

    1. Do check it out. This was a very interesting book and in it, you will discover the meaning of the lacy cover design.

  2. I spent many a happy hour riding around on my dads combine harvest when I was a young girl. It was in the UK so mosquitoes weren't a problem but the dust and bits out of the wheat certainly were. I’m sure I would enjoy this, thank you for telling us about it. Barbara

    1. How interesting that you had that kind of experience. Does the UK not have mosquitoes? I don't get bitten by them so I never pay attention and never noticed all the times I lived there. You might really enjoy this book, especially the main character's dilemma around combines.

  3. This is actually on our summer reading list for my daughter and I (we live in Kansas) so it's great to see such a detailed review of the book. Can't wait to read it now!

  4. What a great cover! This sounds like a fabulous book. Thanks for sharing on the Kid Lit Blog Hop. Cheryl, Hop Hostess

  5. What an interesting book. I guess they would call this literary, in terms of categorising it, but it just sounds fantastic. I am so glad you brought this to our attention on the Kid Lit blog Hop


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