on October 24, 2013
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
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.
on September 24, 2013
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.
on September 6, 2013
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).
on March 4, 2014
The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata digs down into the roots of human behavior, life, and events that all have this thing, called luck, around them. In doing so, Kadohata spurns a surprisingly modern story-plot about a farm family, in which a young girl receives a constant dosage of bad luck. However, the tricky thing about this book is that the reader actually has to analyze what exactly that bad luck is, because it is all but obvious. Overall, after reading this book, one should feel enlightened on how life works its way around luck, and how to deal with bad luck.
"The thing about luck is that it’s like a fever. You can take fever meds and lie in bed and drink chicken broth and sleep seventeen hours in a row, but basically your fever will break when it wants to break," spoken by Summer, the main character. If that quote interests you even the slightest bit, you should read this book. Even more, if you have ever experienced bad luck (or good luck, for the matter), you should read this book. Therefore, everybody should basically read this book. There is an inevitability of human nature that traps us in tracks of bad luck and tracks of good luck. Think of the most perfect person you know of, and I bet he/she still fits that description. It's simply life, and The Thing About Luck guides the reader along this shortcut of life that still encounters all sorts of luck, but with a mind that is ready for anything. Summer, the main character, has experienced all magnitudes of bad luck, from contracting malaria to living in minor-poverty, and is basically an expert when it comes to discussing luck, or the lack thereof. Overall, I find that this book has two main things to offer: a riveting plot that will keep you interested, and multiple life-lessons that will, indeed, remain as life lessons and not finish-the-book-and-forget-everything lessons. This book has been honored with the National Book Award for good reason, and it's just waiting for you to discover what life has in store.
on October 9, 2013
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.
on April 26, 2014
Confession: I haven't talked to kids about this book yet. But my guess is that many would find it difficult to relate to the migrant workers' life and get bogged down in the details. That said, the portrayal of family relationships trumps the agrarian limitations. This book earns its shelf space by its depiction of the grandparent's love demonstrated by high expectations and hard work and the role of a sibling with what appears to be an autistic spectrum disorder
on June 21, 2014
The Thing About Luck is narrated by Summer, a twelve-year-old girl, who is the daughter and granddaughter of Japanese-American wheat harvesters, who travel from farm to farm during harvest season. Summer’s parents have returned to Japan to care for some sick relatives, leaving Summer and her brother, Jaz, with their grandparents.
Summer’s grandmother is strict and formal, and rides Summer mercilessly. She is harsh and mean and demanding. But her grandfather tells Summer and Jaz bedtime stories and reminds them: “You find magic everywhere, in wheat field, in mosquito, even here” (“in the town of Lost Springs, Wyoming, which had a population of four”). Obaachan and Jiichan had an arranged marriage and have been together over fifty years, and they gripe at each other incessantly.
The book follows Summer, Jaz, and their grandparents during part of one harvest season. Summer is at a critical age. She is making the transition into adulthood, becoming more responsible, and figuring out the deal with boys. Her grandparents are getting older, her brother is getting weirder, she is growing up, and the whole family is suffering from a year of bad luck.
The Thing About Luck won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature this year. The reading level is very basic (AR level 4.7), but it tackles a lot of issues, including cultural differences, generational differences, anxiety (Summer has a pretty intense fear of mosquitos following a bout of malaria), and autism (Summer’s brother has been to three different doctors and received three different diagnoses: OCD, ADHD, and PDD-NOS). It’s also an informative look at the life of traveling wheat harvesters (something I, for one, knew nothing about).
The writing is smooth and easy, and the book is peppered with cute illustrations (Summer’s drawings of mosquitos and combines and such).
on June 25, 2014
I’ve read Cynthia Kadohata’s "Weedflower" and "Kira-Kira," and while I really enjoyed those books, "The Thing About Luck" is my favorite of hers. What I like about this book is that even if you’re not Japanese, and you haven’t nearly died of malaria, and you don’t know a thing about wheat harvesting, it’s still a story almost everyone can relate to in some way, because it’s all about dealing with bad luck—or, in other words, life. But let me back up a little.
Twelve-year-old Summer is a survivor. She has recently recovered from malaria, which she contracted when an infected mosquito bit her. Now, even though she is terrified of mosquitos, she draws pictures of them in her sketchbook—a most unusual way to confront her fear. Unfortunately, her malaria is just the beginning of a long season of bad luck for Summer and her family. Her parents suddenly have to go to Japan for a family emergency, which means her grandparents have to come out of retirement to take their place working as cross-country wheat harvesters. This is not going to be easy, as Summer’s grandmother recently started suffering from excruciating back pain. Also, Summer and her brother Jaz, who can’t seem to make a single friend because he’s so different, have to come along with their grandparents and help out.
As someone with Japanese heritage, I thought it was super cool to read a book in which two of the characters go by Obaachan (“Grandma”) and Jiichan (“Grandpa”), nearly identical to what I call my own grandparents. Also, Summer mentions Japanese cultural things here and there, such as umeboshi (pickled plums) and jan ken pon (the Japanese version of rock, paper, scissors).
However, as I said before, you don’t have to be Japanese to appreciate this book, not by any means. Summer doesn’t make a big deal out of her ethnic heritage—it’s just one part of who she is. Nor do you have to have any knowledge of wheat harvesting or malaria. Summer talks about wheat harvesting and her bout with malaria matter-of-factly as part of her life experience. And I think that’s the beauty of this book. It’s not really about getting malaria, or being Japanese, or working as a wheat harvester. What it’s really about is one girl’s experience with a season of bad luck, unwanted responsibilities, her first crush, mixed embarrassment and pride for her family, feelings of inadequacy, and the discovery of her inner strength. Those things are pretty universal, no matter what your background or experience.
Spoiler alert: Summer and her family do not get out of their spell of bad luck by winning the lottery. "The Thing About Luck" shows that bad luck just happens sometimes, and the best way to combat it is to look inside yourself and figure out what you can do to make a positive change.
on November 10, 2013
I loved this book. A sweet and humorous glimpse of an endearing girl entering young adulthood. Strong themes of familial love, self respect, loyalty and the discovery of inner strength and resourcefulness.