In a ballroom in the Seattle convention center, filled with a couple thousand librarians and other folks who love children's books, author and librarian Susan Patron's life changed in January when her book, The Higher Power of Lucky, was named as the winner of the John Newbery Award "for the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children" in 2006. For the first time, I was there when the announcement was made. As the people in the room made frantic calls to try to find copies of the book, I grinned smugly. In my backpack, I had a copy of The Higher Power of Lucky, just waiting for me to finish on my flight home.
Ten-year-old Lucky Trimble lives in the California desert community of Hard Pan (pop. 43). Lucky's mother was electrocuted in a thunderstorm two years earlier and her absent father's first wife, Brigitte, stepped in to act as guardian. Lucky loves Brigitte but fears that she is tired of being her guardian and worries that she is about to be left alone.
Searching for solace and direction, Lucky looks around Hard Pan. While cleaning up outside the Found Object Wind Chime Museum and Visitor Center, she eavesdrops on the many 12-step groups that meet in the museum. Listening to the tales of alcoholics, gamblers, smokers and overeaters who have hit rock bottom, the heroine begins to search for her own Higher Power.
Fascinated by science, nature and Charles Darwin, Lucky observes her world carefully but sometimes misreads what is going on. And when her misguided observational skills tell her that Brigitte is about to leave, Lucky decides to run away.
Patron deftly weaves a tale of family love, community support and the power of friendship. Her deceptively simple novel, with charming spot drawings by Matt Phelan, begs the reader to slow down to the pace of the desert and follow along as a little girl named Lucky searches for the truth of her own life—just like the rest of us.
This is a treasure of a tale that would have been easy to miss had it not been for the 15 members of the Newbery Committee. Thanks to all of them for finding it.
Robin Smith is a second grade teacher in Nashville and a member of the 2008 Geisel Committee. She hopes to find a diamond in the rough for young readers. Copyright 2007 BookPage Reviews.
Horn Book Guide Reviews 2007 Spring
Ten-year-old Lucky lives in Hard Pan, California, a tiny enclave on the outskirts of the Mojave Desert. Her legal guardian is a beautiful, melancholy Frenchwoman, Brigitte. Patron's episodic tale of a grieving, insecure little girl is never heavy-handed or maudlin, due in part to quiet bursts of humor. Her sensory descriptions, supported by Phelan's gentle spot art, animate this unique community. Copyright 2007 Horn Book Guide Reviews.
Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2007 #1
Ten-year-old Lucky lives in Hard Pan, California, a tiny enclave on the outskirts of the Mojave Desert. Her legal guardian is beautiful, melancholy Frenchwoman Brigitte, the first wife of Lucky's absentee father. Lucky is one of few people in her community of forty-three to have a paying job in town, cleaning up after various "Anonymous" meetings held at the Found Object Wind Chime Museum and Visitor Center. As she eavesdrops on the participants' stories of redemption, she wonders how to find her own "higher power." When Lucky becomes convinced that Brigitte is planning to go back to France, her cathartic running-away into a desert windstorm allows her to come to terms with her mother's death, as well as prove to herself a compassion she's afraid she lacks. Author Patron's tale of a grieving, insecure little girl is never heavy-handed or maudlin, due in part to quiet bursts of humor. Quirky supporting characters include future presidential hopeful and knot artist Lincoln Clinton Carter Kennedy, Lucky's best friend; and recovering alcoholic/hippie/cowboy Short Sammy. The book's brief chapters reflect the cyclical, episodic nature of life in Hard Pan, while meandering yet meticulously crafted sentences illustrate Lucky's natural curiosity and the importance of storytelling in her life. Patron's sensory descriptions of Hard Pan and the surrounding desert, supported by Phelan's gentle spot art, animate this unique community. Copyright 2007 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.
Kirkus Reviews 2006 October #2
The facts of Lucky's life in Hard Pan, Calif. (population 43), scarcely qualify her as "lucky." One parent is dead and the other disinterested. Her future with her unemployed French guardian Brigitte, who was tricked into caring for her, feels uncertain. When Lucky discovers that Brigitte is taking an online course in restaurant management from Paris, she anticipates being abandoned. To find her higher power and take control of her life, Lucky runs away in a dust storm, hoping to cause worry, sadness and a change of Brigitte's heart. Potential disaster leads to Lucky's discovery that Brigitte loves her, which helps her come to terms with her mother's death. The plot is not what elevates Lucky's memorable story. Hard Pan may be lightly populated, but every soul is uniquely unforgettable, from 5-year-old Miles, shameless cookie hustler, to Lincoln, serious knot-tying addict. Readers will gladly give themselves over to Patron, a master of light but sure characterization and closely observed detail. A small gem. (Fiction. 9-11) Copyright Kirkus 2006 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.
Publishers Weekly Annex Reviews
Patron's (Maybe Yes, Maybe No, Maybe Maybe) often poignant novel introduces 10-year-old Lucky, who lives in the California desert town of Hard Pan. After her mother died, Lucky's estranged father asked his former first wife, Brigitte, to travel from France and act as Lucky's guardian. The author's third-person narrative gently adheres to a child's perspective and reveals the warm relationship between Lucky and Brigitte. As the heroine goes about her work at the Found Object Wind Chime Museum and Visitor Center, she eavesdrops on the meetings of various 12-step programs held there, listening to "the anonymous people" talk about hitting rock bottom and then gaining control of their lives through a Higher Power. If she could find her own Higher Power, Lucky feels "pretty sure she'd be able to figure out the difference between the things she could change and the things she couldn't." One thing she hopes will not change is her life with Brigitte, whom she fears will return to her much-missed homeland and leave Lucky with a foster family. Through her search for an HP, Lucky makes a few discoveries-such as the true identity of "the crematory man," who handed her an urn bearing her mother's ashes at the funeral, and the hidden talents of her knot-tying friend Lincoln. When Lucky hits her "rock bottom," she decides to run away with her beloved dog during a dust storm, a risky move that leads to an uplifting denouement. Though Lucky's ponderings sometimes grow repetitive, the sympathetic, pleasingly quirky characters define this tightly-knit hardscrabble community, affectionately portrayed in Phelan's half-tone illustrations. Ages 9-11. Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal Reviews 2006 December
Gr 4-6 When LuckyĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s mother is electrocuted and dies after a storm, LuckyĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s absentee father calls his ex-wife, Brigitte, to fly over from France to take care of the child. Two years later, the 10-year-old worries that Brigitte is tired of being her guardian and of their life in Hard Pan (pop. 42) in the middle of the California desert. While LuckyĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s best friend ties intricate knots and the little boy down the road cries for attention, she tries to get some control over her life by restocking her survival kit backpack and searching for her Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“Higher Power.Ă˘â‚¬Âť This character-driven novel has an unusually complicated backstory, and a fair amount of exposition. Yet, its quirky cast and local color help to balance this fact, and the desert setting is fascinating. LuckyĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s tendency to jump to conclusions is frustrating, but her struggle to come to terms with her motherĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s death and with her new life ring true. PhelanĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s cover and line drawings are simple and evocative, a perfect complement to the text. Fans of novels by Deborah Wiles and Katherine Hannigan will be happy to meet Lucky. Adrienne Furness, Webster Public Library, NY[Page 152]. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.