“Justine’s religious beliefs and her understanding of Biblical citations are all her own and do not represent those of any person or group.” ~Susan Patron, “Notes to the Reader.”
Lucky for Good (Book 3: Lucky’s Hard Pan trilogy)
by Susan Patron
w/ Illustrations by Erin McGuire
Atheneum Books for Young Readers (Simon & Schuster), 2011.
Hardcover, 203. Juvenile Fiction (ages 8-12)
Few dare in Children’s Literature like Susan Patron does, and I really think they should. Lucky’s Hard Pan Trilogy ends even more provocatively than it began; which, you may recall, was quite controversial. Can a Children’s Book use the word “scrotum,” let alone use it on the first page?! This was the worry with the 2007 Newbery Award-Winner The Higher Power of Lucky. Bless you Ms. Patron for out-doing yourself with each installment and ending on a high note.
In Lucky for Good, Brigitte’s Café is doing remarkably well until the Health Inspector drops in, a Mr. Stu Burping. Apparently the Café is in violation of a certain code, and in order to keep the Café open, the community of Hard Pan come together to save it. With Mr. Burping’s subsequent visits come his sulky and bigoted nephew Ollie; Ollie who is involved in the impetus behind Lucky learning more about her father. Then there is the return of Mile’s mother Justine who has found God in prison. Lucky for Good continues in series’ portraiture of family, both the one you are born into and the one you create about you. Both require more than a little grace.
In every novel of the trilogy, Susan Patron increases the population of Lucky’s world. She creates multi-faceted characters who can make life good as easily as they make life difficult. Many misunderstand or are misunderstood, but they are each their own. I am impressed with the deft way Patron uses and defies cliché to engage the reader’s attention and their critical thought. Strange is the new Normal. We exist in a climate of diversity and ever evolving circumstances. Lucky for Good is not concerned only with common histories (e.g. immigration) or getting along with same species (i.e. ‘we’re all human’ or ‘we’re blood relatives’), perhaps we can learn to negotiate ourselves into relationship across specie, across belief-systems, and across the planes of the living/dead (via legacy).
What Patron continues in Lucky for Good that I find beautiful and brave is the way she stands by the integrity of her characters—especially the children. It is always a good thing when an author does not underestimate their audience, but what about their characters? Adults may not care to hear the word “scrotum” spoken by a child or a children’s author, but how about their feelings about Death? About Higher Powers? Or their own views on scientific subject matters?
“There was no one she could ask. She definitely never told anyone about her death thoughts [not suicidal], because she suspected they would make her go to doctors for testing and she’d end up at a school for disturbed children. Well, she was probably a little bit disturbed, but wasn’t everybody? And it was not in a bad or alarming way, only inside her own head, where it didn’t bother a soul in the world.
“So she carefully kept her thoughts to herself, in the privacy of her mind.” (132)
Wonder what perpetuates the idea that Lucky would be seen as “disturbed” for imagining scenarios of abandonment and recovery—in a world where she has been abandoned in one way and another. How do we model our approach to difficult subjects? How do we converse on the difficult topics that children do actually think about?
Hard Pan is perhaps one of the oddest representations of a Utopic society. For Lucky, she finds family, friendship, and a place where people care to have her opinion. You can only hope the same for Miles. Miles is one of the sweetest little boys written into literature and his mother’s return is heartbreaking. Not only does Miles have to adjust to the return of his mother, but the new belief-system and rules she brings with her. Having experienced Lucky’s growth over the course of the trilogy, you have every hope for him. And Lucky’s true-to-Lucky reassurance for Miles? “Well, listen, Miles. Even though you’re a kid, you’re still a person. You can decide things” (188).
“In Lucky for Good, Susan Patron tackles big ideas with a deft and delicate touch. Lucky is a delightful heroine, funny and wise beyond her years.” ~Frances O’Roark Dowell.
There are tricky conversations within Lucky for Good, who is, ultimately for the good of everyone and everything. There have been many a juvenile fiction novel inviting the reader to a greater education of Charles Darwin and Evolution via their protagonists and plot. Much of this appears to be a response to the struggle in our Public Schools over the subject of Darwin. My mother-in-law taught at a Middle School up the street from Focus on the Family—don’t think there wasn’t a list of subjects and terms to not be mentioned in the classroom. Regardless of how you (as an adult) feel on this subject, the point is that children are aware of the controversial topics and are forming opinions and are often wanting for conversation on the matters. Ollie forms an opinion from one of the many popular beliefs on immigration and it is hurtful, and with regards to the situation: dangerously ignorant.
Children find exposure to different perspectives: via friends, books, unforeseeable circumstances, etc. Goodness knows they come up with thoughts all their own. Lucky just wants to practice talking about it and know how others feel on a given subject—especially her favorite: Charles Darwin. Patron’s Lucky for Good provokes a conversation on a subject from which children have been pretty much excluded. (Bibliophiles will love the argument on 156-7.) And without subverting the spirit of all three Hard Pan books, Lucky for Good encourages curiosity, conversation, and critical thought—not only between characters, but with the Readers. A message if there is one needs stating is : I’m not telling you, dear Reader, what to think, but am merely reminding you that you can think and you should think. Creative solutions and hard-earned wisdom abound. And what better place to learn how to cope with Life’s big questions and curveballs than Hard Pan?
note: if you are concerned that Justine is vilified? She is not any more than most who create fear and uncertainty; not unlike the Health Inspector, not unlike the Father who abandoned his daughter, etc. Justine actually finds a place in Hard Pan; she is treated respectfully. I find it interesting that books that inherently encourage hearing another out and to live compassionately receives the least of those things—of course, I could be pleasantly surprised and find Lucky for Good safe from challenge, from various sources (e.g. If you don’t like hearing the name Jesus or God, nor care for the words “hell” or “Evolution” or “evolving,” etc).
Also, Lucky for Good doesn’t read ‘provocative for the sake of provocation.’ As Kathi Appelt notes, “Susan Patron writes honest and true, and this, her final Lucky, feels trues of all.” Justine brings a very common conflict to the landscape and Lucky and Miles, among others have to find a way to make Justine family/community. Miles, for obvious reasons, and Lucky because she views Miles as a brother and does not want him to leave Hard Pan and she certainly does not like to see him hurting. Justine is just one new relationship finding a foothold in Lucky for Good: there is the evolving relationship between Lincoln and Lucky; there is the hopeful future blossoming with Pete; there is the haunting of a Father’s decisions; there is a wild burro and a ginger cat. What Susan Patron does with the characterization and the relationships is magnificent. Lucky isn’t message-y, but a bit messy, and a bit like life, and it grows on you, and that hopeful ending to Lucky for Good?–I believe it.
My review of The Higher Power of Lucky and my review of Lucky Breaks. Honestly, I was slow to warm to Book One, but this set will be on the Christmas List and sitting next to my collection of Clarice Bean (by Lauren Child), and my Blue Balliett’s.
Matt Phelan has done the illustrations for the first two books’ first series of prints. I was sad to see a change with this final installment. Happily, Erin McGuire does good work as well. Going to have to look into this new-to-me Illustrator. You should check her out as well. The images above are hers, but as I was glancing, there looked to be more good stuff.