After a brilliant debut (The Higher Power of Lucky) and flawed sequel (Lucky Breaks), Susan Patron ends her trilogy on a high note. My major gripe with Lucky Breaks was that Lucky’s mistakes went from endearing to annoying, until it became hard to root for her. But maybe it was necessary, because by Lucky for Good our eponymous character has matured enough to tackle her demons with grace.
I’m not saying she’s a saint (just look at the condition of Ollie’s jaw). Far from it. Stubborn and compulsive as always, Lucky soon lands in the principal’s office for fighting on the playground. And that’s on top of her other worries: Lincoln departs for England, Brigitte’s café may be closing, Miles’ mother returns with much drama and a school assignment forces Lucky to research her good-for-nothing father. Yet you can’t help cheering for her as she muddles through with help from friends and the occassional inspiration from her Higher Power—a kind of religion cobbled together from eavesdropping at AA meetings and Lucky’s imagination.
This is Hard Pan at its best. If I weren’t such a sucker for snow, I’d move to the town just for the neighbors. Whether learning how to iron or driving a trailer without breaks, the residents of Hard Pan have a quirky charm that’s irresistable. It would be like living with 53 members of the Penderwick family—and that’s before you add Chesterfield the burro and Lucky’s dog HMS Beagle, not to mention the stunning desert landscape.
Maybe it’s because this is our last journey into Hard Pan, but Patron doesn’t pull any punches. She wades into dangerous territory by making religion a cornerstone of the plot. Miles’ mother Justine has discovered God in jail and now she’s determined to share her faith. Which means teaching Miles to read the Bible while banning his beloved dinosaur books. It means loud arguments between Justine and her mother over the best way to raise Miles. Justine even rattles Lucky by telling her that Charles Darwin—Lucky’s hero—doesn’t deserve to go to heaven. But Justine doesn’t come across as the villain. She’s simply stating her beliefs, and her faith is as admirable as Lucky’s love of science. Besides, Lucky’s old enough to hold her own. Their arguments over creationism and evolution are honest but never malicious. It’s Miles who ends up confused…poor Miles. No six year-old should have to choose between his mother’s approval and his established worldview. Things get trickier when Lincoln and Lucky try to help Miles sort things out. Isn’t it possible, they reason, that the Bible and evolution are both right? It’s a heady subject for experienced scholars, never mind for three kids under 12. Patron gets the tone just right: their search for answers feels earnest and the discussions thoughtful yet age-appropriate. Realistically enough, there are no neat solutions. People will disagree, and that’s okay. “Just keep thinking with your brain like you always do,” Lucky tells Miles. “You don’t have to say everything you think out loud…the big thing is that Justine loves you. No matter what, she loves you and she’s trying her best.” It’s the kind of kid wisdom I wish more adults would retain, especially in this age of crazy, often hateful rhetoric.
Religion isn’t the only hot topic. This might be the most contemporary children’s book I’ve read in years. Lucky uses Facebook for schoolwork (borrowing Brigitte’s account) and reads Charles and Emma (published 2009). Patron even references the 2008 recession through Ollie, a teenager whose father has been laid off. In his anger, Ollie—parroting some pundit, no doubt—calls Brigitte an illegal immigrant who’s stealing good American jobs. All these details make Lucky’s world so much more real, and I think the themes are timeless enough that fifty years from now, Lucky for Good will still ring true. Like the best middle grade novels, Lucky’s journey is about kids struggling to live in a grown-up’s world. As Lucky says, a lot of things don’t make sense. But maybe that will change:
“…later we’ll be the grown-ups and it’ll be our world and we’ll be able to do anything we want. We can fix things then.”
Lucky for President–who’s with me?