Despite not getting back till nearly midnight Friday night, I still had to work 10AM-10PM yesterday. But since one of the four books awaiting me on the reserve shelf was The Higher Power of Lucky, I swung by the library on my way in and read it last night when I got home.
I was surprised by its slim size. I recognized the soft touch of Matt Phelan's illustrations - as suited here as they were in The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs. I readied myself for another uplifting, plucky orphan story. And then...... I got to paragraph two. Not many recent Newbery winners opening with a description of a falling down drunk whose poor dog is bitten in the scrotum by a rattlesnake. None that I can recall anyway. Nonetheless, certainly a new take on the plucky orphan tale!
Lucky's world -- the hardscrabble desert burg of Hard Pan and its numerous odd characters -- is reminiscent of Sassafras Springs and Naomi, Florida. An out of the way spot with an assortment of unusual folks. In Hard Pan we discover Short Sammy (of the anecdote in paragraph two) who lives in a cast-off water tank, Brigitte who is both Lucky's guardian and her father's first wife, Lincoln who is never without a length of something to practice his knot-tying, and Miles who can make the sounds of any creature on his endless search for a cookie.
But it is Lucky who has the voice that pulls the reader in and holds them there. Her tenuous hold on a stable life propels her to look for a higher power to guide her to safety. She is inspired to mimic the careful grasping for normalcy she hears while eavesdropping at the local twelve-step meetings. She knows she has talents, but fears that without a safe harbor to work from, she will not be able to achieve her dreams.
The poignant scenes at the close of the book, when Lucky discovers she does have power and love and a place to call home forever and ever are lovely and magical. It's a little gem of a book.
And yes, it does get around to defining scrotum for the reader before the final page....