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The Thing About Luck Paperback – June 3, 2014

4.1 out of 5 stars 46 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Gr 5-8-Fans of Kadohata's Kira-Kira (S & S, 2004) will welcome this similarly gentle, character-driven exploration of familial bonds, this time set in the contemporary Midwest. With their parents called away to care for relatives in Japan, 12-year-old Summer and her younger brother, Jaz, accompany their grandparents, performing the grueling work that comes with the harvest season. In her likable voice, Summer observes the varying excitement, tedium, and challenges of harvesting wheat, sprinkling her narration with casual turns of phrase such as "OMG" and "epic fail" that will endear her to readers. Strong family ties suffuse this novel with a tremendous amount of heart. Though Summer's brother has been diagnosed with a number of disorders, she prefers to think of him as simply "intense," and, like most siblings, is alternately protective of and annoyed by his idiosyncrasies. Her grandparents, comically strict Obaachan and kindly Jiichan, bring warmth and humor with their cultural and generational differences. Kadohata expertly captures the uncertainties of the tween years as Summer navigates the balance of childlike concerns with the onset of increasingly grown-up responsibilities. She ponders the fragility of life after a brush with death from malaria, experiences newfound yearnings upon becoming preoccupied with a boy, and bravely steps up to save the day when her grandfather falls ill. The book's leisurely pace and extensive information about grain harvesting require some amount of patience from readers, but their investment will be rewarded by Summer's satisfying journey to self-actualization.-Allison Tran, Mission Viejo Library, CAα(c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* It seems that if Summer’s Japanese American family didn’t have bad luck, they’d have no luck at all. Certainly good luck (kouun) is elusive. Consider that Summer has had malaria; her little brother, Jaz, is friendless; her parents have to fly to Japan to take care of elderly relatives; and her grandmother (Obaa-chan) and grandfather (Jii-chan) must pay the mortgage by coming out of retirement to work for a custom harvesting company. When the siblings accompany their grandparents on the harvest, Summer helps her grandmother, a cook, while Jaz is Jaz: intense, focused, and bad-tempered. At first, things go reasonably well, but then Jii-chan becomes sick, and it appears that it might be up to Summer to save the day. Will she succeed? Kadohata has written a gentle family story that is unusual in its focus on the mechanics of wheat harvesting. Readers may skim the more arcane aspects of the labor-intensive work, focusing instead on the emotionally rich and often humorous dynamics of Summer’s relationship with her old-fashioned but endearing grandparents and her troubled younger brother. Another engaging novel from the Newbery Medal–winning Kadohata. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: With the blogosphere already starting to buzz, and author appearances and web promotions planned, Kadohata’s already sizable audience will likely increase with this title. Grades 4-8. --Michael Cart --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Product Details

  • Age Range: 10 - 14 years
  • Grade Level: 5 - 9
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers; Reprint edition (June 3, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1442474653
  • ISBN-13: 978-1442474659
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.9 x 7.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #140,189 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Cynthia Kadohata has lived in Chicago, Georgia, Arkansas, Michigan, Los Angeles, Boston, Pittsburgh, and New York City. She has worked as a waitress, sales clerk, typist, publicist, and secretary. She's back to Los Angeles now, probably permanently, and lives with George, her boyfriend of sixteen years; Sammy, her much-loved son; and two very funny and possibly insane dogs. She has published three novels for grown-ups, and her writing has appeared in Grand Street, the Mississippi Review, The New Yorker, and Ploughshares. Her first children's novel, Kira-Kira, won the Newbery Medal in 2005. She has also published the children's books Weedflower, winner of the Pen-USA; Cracker, winner of six state awards as voted on by kids; Outside Beauty; A Million Shades of Gray; The Thing About Luck, winner of the 2013 National Book Award; and Half a World Away. Her next novel, due in 2016, is about a young Japanese-American family deported to Japan after World War 2.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Summer and her odd, Lego-obsessed younger brother Jaz (Asperger's probably) spend a summer with their Japanese grandparents, harvesting in the wheat fields of Kansas, Texas and Oklahoma. Both grandparents are pushing 70, and speak in broken English, but they have an admirable work ethic and energy, though by current American parenting standards they are a bit hard on the kids, particularly Summer.

What I loved about the book: abundant humor, strong "Greatest Generation" ethics, many kind but imperfect adults (just like in real life.) Summer has her first stab at romance (which doesn't go perfectly) and steps up when needed in a couple of very tough situations. While reluctant readers and Wimpy Kid fans may find this book too quiet, with too few cartoonish illustrations, `tweens who've enjoyed CHARLOTTE'S WEB, WONDER, THE BEST BAD LUCK I EVER HAD or OUT OF MY MIND should be the perfect audiences for this delightful (and funny) story.

About me: I'm a middle school/high school librarian
How I got this book: purchased for the library
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is intended for middle school aged kids, but is an enjoyable story for adults as well. The main character is a Japanese-American girl named Summer who goes along with her brother to stay with their grandparents in Kansas while their parents deal with a family problem in Japan. The grandparents are part of a custom combining crew that travels from Kansas south into Texas and then back north through Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, and North Dakota harvesting the wheat crop. Much of the story is a "coming of age" tale involving this girl, but other parts describe quite accurately the lifestyle of the harvesters.

I was especially intrigued because I have relatives who have done custom combining, so it was interesting to see how this story matched up with what I had heard before.

I would recommend the book for 10-12 year old readers and to adults who are interested in this topic. It would be a good book for a middle school library.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
When both television and I were much younger, there was a short and inviting program on Sunday afternoon. It used time lapse photography to make blooming flowers dance to classical music. Something very much like that is at work in this lovely book.

This is a quiet work about a girl adding size to her life. She has an introvert brother and ailing but tenacious grandparents. Of Japanese ancestry, they all live in Kansas but travel seasonally to harvest wheat on the Plains. The time frame covers perhaps a month of their lives.

There is very little action but a great deal of change. The young brother begins to stir. The grandparents are strong in character even as they physically weaken. And the girl gently emerges as she confronts a test of integrity and passes. Then she commits an act of family heroism, but does it in near anonymity and in the night. It is a firm step toward maturity, her only reward the satisfaction of knowing she came through.

Such a touching, comfortable book.
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Format: Hardcover
I love this book. Having grown up on a farm, I understand the value and responsibility of hard work. And yes, the family in this book has to work hard - as well as deal with cultural differences, changing family dynamics, and the intricacies of growing up. Highly recommended for anyone (even adults).
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Format: Hardcover
I wasn't sure that I was going to like this book when I picked it up, but I ended up liking it more than I expected. However, I'm not sure many kids will be interested in this. The Thing About Luck is more on the thoughtful end of the spectrum and most kids seem to prefer more action-oriented reads. For those who do pick it up and stick with it though the story provides a look at a 12-year-old girl with more than her fair share of difficulties. With her parents in Japan, Summer is left to go wheat harvesting with her grandparents and brother. But with a grandmother who can't seem to find a civil word in her head and a brother who lacks social skills but desperately wants a friend, Summer is really stressed. I found the details about custom harvesters and the workings of combines and wheat harvesting fascinating but many kids may not. Summer also experiences her first crush as well as having to take up the slack when sickness hits her family.

Strengths: The characterization is superb, I could really easily see Summer as an unsure 7th grader trying to 'settle her personality' and deal with the 'bad luck' that seems to be plaguing her family. The other characters are just as well done, especially Summer's brother Jaz, and her grandmother. The book felt very real and contemporary and the writing is fabulous.

Weaknesses: The plot moves slower than most child readers are willing to stick with. And the details about farming and wheat harvesting in particular are likely to turn off child readers. I also found the grandmother's constant criticism of Summer rather grating. Summer did make plenty of mistakes, but seriously, not even one kind word?! Especially when Jaz pretty much does what he wants. Realistic perhaps but also irritating.

OVERALL: A thoughtful book about growing up and a challenging way of life for the child reader who enjoys a book with a slower pace but a lot of depth.
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