Finding Luck at Age Twelve


The Thing About Luck by  Cynthia Kodohata a treasure trove of insights into the life of a twelve year old girl from Kansas who badly needs her family to find some Kouun which means "good luck" in Japanese. In the first paragraph Summer says that "Bad luck chased us around, pointing her bony finger." She lists seven flat tires in six weeks, her case of malaria from a mosquito bite and her grandmother's spine trouble starting to cause her excruciating pain. She also adds unexplainable random bad smells and the apparent new cloak of invisibility for her younger brother Jaz whose best friend has moved leaving him always alone and not noticed, unless he is having one of his tantrums because one of his Lego buildings is disturbed.  

To make matters worse Summer's parents have been suddenly called away to Japan to care for three elderly parents who were expected to die and wanted someone to care for them in their last weeks. So there goes her chance to enjoy her summer.  She will have to help take care of Jaz, a very "intense" boy who might be identified as somewhere in the high functioning autistic or Asperger spectrum, but has not been diagnosed with anything that any specialists can name.  And as the family is always desperate for extra money to pay the mortgage, she and her 67-year-old grandparents will have to be the ones to help with the wheat harvest for the summer as they travel south to Texas and work preparing the meals and driving the big rigs and combines as they follow the harvest north.

The rest of the story is a comedy of suspense and information. Her grandparents Obaachan and Jihan are hilarious. Grandmother Obaachan is the bossiest, insisting on old-fashioned Japanese rules and traditions while murdering the English language trying to bark her orders with current expressions such as "you in rah-rah land" or the favorite, "you grounded!" which happens almost daily. Jihan is more in tune with Summer's needs but enjoys constant bantering back and forth with his wife of an arranged marriage about such topics as who will die happiest or first.

As they join the harvest crew driving in the complex parade of combines, grain carts, and big rigs that haul them back and forth, the novel introduces a wealth of information about the tricky wheat harvesting process. The harvesters have to meet the wheat at the exact moment when it is perfectly ripe, often working through the night or days on end if rain is threatening. A damp crop can mean ruin. But when Obaachan's neck pain worsens at a critical time, Summer, who assists with the shopping and cooking for the crew, may have to take on far more than she ever imagined. And just to add to the interest, there is Summer's first young crush.

Newbery Award winner Kadohata seems to have outdone herself again, winning the 2013 National Book Award in the Young People's Literature category for this title. Even the most reluctant reader should enjoy this book. Kadohata currently resides in Los Angeles. Author visits or future Literary Orange catch anyone? There is a nice sample of the book found here as well as good information on other websites. Kodaharta has written a number of other books that are have historical or intercultural themes., including her Newbery Award winning Kira-Kira.  Another book at a picture book level which treats the theme of being Japanese American in days of early immigration is Alan Says's The Favorite Daughter.

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