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The Thing About Luck

3.69  ·  Rating Details ·  3,725 Ratings  ·  576 Reviews
Summer knows that kouun means good luck" in Japanese, and this year her family has had none. Just when Summer thinks nothing else can possibly go wrong, an emergency whisks her parents away to Japan, right before harvest season leaving Summer and her little brother, Jaz, in the care of their elderly grandparents, Obaachan and Jiichan.

Obaachan and Jiichan are old fashioned,
Hardcover, 270 pages
Published January 4th 2013 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
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Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg SloanNavigating Early by Clare VanderpoolDoll Bones by Holly BlackEscape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chris GrabensteinFlora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo
Newbery 2014
12th out of 114 books — 456 voters
The Great Wall of Lucy Wu by Wendy Wan-Long ShangKira-Kira by Cynthia KadohataStanford Wong Flunks Big-time by Lisa YeeWhere the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace LinMillicent Min, Girl Genius by Lisa Yee
Middle Grade/ Tween Asian-American Fiction
12th out of 63 books — 10 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Destinee Sutton
I agree with all the other reviewers who have praised this book for its great characters and wonderful writing and then asked, "But what kid is going to like it?" Or to be frank, "What kid is going to even pick it up?" This is a hard sell. Like Out of the Dust hard sell (but at least it has a lively cover!).

I laughed out loud a few times at Obachan and Summer's interactions and I thought Summer was a real kid's kid. She had a great, relatable voice. Still, the book has virtually no plot and, ev
Dec 13, 2013 Samuel rated it it was ok
Shelves: children
"Some kids I knew would read only books that were about something they could relate to. But I was interested in other stuff."

When I got to that passage, I actually had to take a break from reading The Thing About Combines Luck to ponder the critical question: did I just get trolled by Cynthia Kadohata?

The book that prompts that statement from Summer, The Thing About Luck's protagonist, is A Separate Peace. A few paragraphs down, Summer muses further about that novel: "Why would a book in which h
Rachael Stein
May 03, 2013 Rachael Stein rated it liked it
Summer's family is having a year of terrible luck. Summer recently recovered from a freak bout of malaria, her brother is a friendless oddball, and her parents just flew to Japan to care for some elderly relatives. That leaves Summer alone with her grandparents for wheat harvesting season. She's usually just along for the ride, but this year, with her grandmother's back pain worsening and her grandfather slowing down, she finds herself facing a lot more responsibility. To make things worse, she' ...more
Penny Peck
Jul 26, 2013 Penny Peck rated it it was amazing
Shelves: children-ya
One of the most satisfying tween books I have read this year, this first person novel seems so authentic in voice that it doesn't matter if the plot is relatively "quiet." But the plot is interesting and unusual - 12 year old Summer is spending weeks on the road with her brother and grandparents, working the wheat harvest in Kansas. Her grandparents were born in Japan, but the family is a true American example of an immigrant family - the kids are all American down to speaking perfect English an ...more
Feb 22, 2014 Angela rated it it was amazing
I loved this book, almost finished it in one sitting.
It immerses you in the emotional growth of a 12 year old girl in the US., a girl who undertakes challenges and deals with difficult times with courage and resilience. Not many her age would decide they needed to support their family by driving a combine harvester at night and cooking for 12 people and owning up to her dog killing chickens - for which she paid good money. She also falls in temporary love, handles a boss/ worker relationship, co
Sep 12, 2013 Ann rated it really liked it
Shelves: realistic
This did not sound like a book I would like, so I was surprised that I enjoyed it so much - which come to think of it was the same reaction I had to the author's Newbery winner, Kira-Kira. Maybe the book blurbs just don't capture the essence of her writing?

I loved the relationship between Summer and her grandmother, and even more I loved that there was never an over-the-top scene where it is made abundantly clear that the grandmother really does love her, despite harping on her constantly. Summe
Mary Louise Sanchez
Oct 16, 2013 Mary Louise Sanchez rated it it was amazing
Shelves: realistic
Twelve-year-old Summer is one unlucky girl to contact malaria in modern times so she continually sprays herself with DEET for protection. But there is no protection from more bad luck which follows her family (like the mosquitoes) when her parents have to go to Japan to care for relatives while Summer and her brother Jazz, "cursed with invisibility" have to stay behind with her Japanese grandparents who must come out of retirement to help harvest the wheat in order to help pay the mortgage. Summ ...more
national book award winner for 2013, kids book for maybe 12 year olds. story of young girl and her little brother, living and working with their grandparents (mom n dad had to go back to japan of fam business) and their work is custom harvesting, wheat harvest in middle of usa with big combines and trucks etc, grandma is funny character, strong and joking both. the work is super hard and long, custom harvesters have to move from farm to farm, starting in southern plains in june, working north to ...more
Reviewed for the Emmet O'Neal Library Children's Department. Click here to access the children's portion of the review.

Grown-up portion of review:

I love finding a children's book that deals with a rarely-touched topic in a nuanced, relevant-to-kids way. In this one, Kadohata does some good work with guilt.

Summer tries really hard to do what she thinks is right and, for the most part, does very well. She's a hard worker and she's compassionate. So when those evil thoughts come (you know, the kind
Crystal Bandel
Oct 22, 2013 Crystal Bandel rated it really liked it
The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata, published 2013.

Realistic fiction.

Novel with a few illustrations.

Grades 4-8.

Found via Booklist, reviewed by Michael Cart.

The Thing About Luck follows first-generation Japanese American Summer, whose family is plagued with bad luck. Her parents are taking care of relatives in Japan, so her old-fashioned Japanese grandparents must work in Summer's parents' stead, traveling across the United States as wheat harvesters. Though a good portion of this novel foc
Peggy Dynek
Jan 24, 2014 Peggy Dynek rated it really liked it
Do you have chores at home? What are things you do to help your family? Do you mow? Do you ever operate any sort of machinery? Do you ever wonder what driving might feel like? Summer is spending her spring and summer with a wheat harvesting crew that travels from Texas, through her home state of Kansas, all the way to the Dakotas. Her family farms, and they call harvest their “mortgage money.” Summer’s parents are called away, so her maternal grandparents come to help the Parker crew with the h ...more
Harun Harahap
Sepertinya ini buku kedua Cynthia Kadohata yang gue baca. Sama seperti buku sebelumnya, kisahnya tentang kehidupan keluarga keturunan Jepang di Amerika. Summer, tokoh utama, bersama adiknya Jaz ikut kakek-neneknya bekerja sebagai pemanen gandum di berbagai wilayah di Amerika Serikat. Kakek-neneknya yang sering dipanggil Jiichan dan Obaachan senang memberi petuah dari tanah leluhur mereka. Salah satunya tidur ke arah selatan akan membawa keberuntungan. Belum semua laha digarap, kakek neneknya mal ...more
May 27, 2014 Chris rated it liked it
Shelves: j, not-graphic, life
I am from Kansas wheat country and would describe many of my favorite books as character-driven, understated, and/or subtle, yet I found this to have an excess of all of those features. It tells a quiet story focused on characters from Kansas working to harvest wheat, and reading it was pleasant enough, I just think the book's appeal is too niche and there wasn't enough story there for it to be more than quietly pleasant. The National Book Award committee obviously enjoyed and admired it, and th ...more
Erika McManus
Jun 21, 2016 Erika McManus rated it did not like it

I groaned out loud several times while listening to this book. Usually, I do not prefer audiobooks because I find it pretty slow. I decided to give it a shot because I was such a fan of Kira-Kira as a child. I read it probably close to ten times and cried each time - I'm pretty sure two of the pages are actually still stuck together with tears.

However, my experience with this book was awful. As far as the actual text, it was pretty inoffensive. Slow, and definitely not action-packed, but m
Jun 06, 2016 Ripken rated it really liked it
This was a really good book about when Summer’s parents are in Japan helping Summer’s great grandparents so her grandparents are taking her and her little brother and they are going to do the harvesting work for the Parkers. Ever since Summer got malaria things have been bad luck to the family like how her younger brother Jaz does not have any friends. But the one time he did, his friend moved. Also, how her grandmother is always in pain because of her back. At harvesting time in Texas she meets ...more
Brittani Laski
Jun 06, 2015 Brittani Laski rated it really liked it
Shelves: children-s-lit
School Library Journal
( June 01, 2013; 9781416918820 )
Gr 5-8-Fans of Kadohata's Kira-Kira (S & S, 2004) will welcome this similarly gentle, character-driven exploration of familial bonds, this time set in the contemporary Midwest. With their parents called away to care for relatives in Japan, 12-year-old Summer and her younger brother, Jaz, accompany their grandparents, performing the grueling work that comes with the harvest season. In her likable voice, Summer observes the varying excitem
Dec 20, 2014 Ken rated it liked it
Shelves: ya, finished-in-2014
Well-written YA with an odd setting and topic, as it is about a Japanese family that helps to bring in the wheat crop in Texas. Thus we get a lot of details about tractors and combines and harvesting wheat at the right temperature and proper conditions, etc. Will teen readers -- especially of the reluctant variety -- plow through it? No way, as far as the reluctant crowd goes. Kids that are already big readers -- especially girls? Yes.

The protagonist, named Summer, is beginning to show an intere
Feb 19, 2014 Jane rated it it was amazing
Shelves: grades-4-6
Summer’s Japanese American family doesn't seem to have luck. She has had malaria; her little brother, Jaz, shows symptoms of asperger syndrome is depressed about not having any friends; her parents have to fly to Japan to take care of elderly relatives; and her grandmother (Obaa-chan) and grandfather (Jii-chan) must pay the mortgage by coming out of retirement to work for a custom harvesting company. When the siblings accompany their grandparents on the harvest, Summer helps her grandmother cook ...more
Jul 06, 2016 Cheryl rated it it was ok
First of all, let me say it was interesting learning about custom harvesting. I grew up on a small family farm so I've always been curious about how big farms work. But there are so many problems with this book. It's mostly boring (like going wheating, I guess...). Summer's grandparents are over-the-top goofed (all the better to support the themes...). The cover is pretty, but wrong, because it's a big deal that Summer's hair is frizzy and that she and her brother don't cooperate well. It doesn' ...more
Crystal Faris
Jan 05, 2014 Crystal Faris rated it it was ok
Well, this was boring. I have heard a wide variety of impressions about this book but I am hard pressed to understand the award-worthiness. I know it was the National Book Award winner for young people and it is on many Mock Newbery lists which is what rated it two stars for me. If I had read it before all the great words from other people it would have been only one star. There has to be something of value I am missing for it to be so honored this year.

Probably my largest concern is the signif
Nat Lim
Feb 25, 2016 Nat Lim rated it really liked it
The Thing About Luck, written by Cynthia Kadohata is a well written piece in which follows the life of a 12 year old Japanese American girl named Summer. As she goes through life, it depicts the problems that happen in her family, as well as they lifestyle they lead, which were farmers. Although the author did not use difficult language, I enjoyed the casual reading and i really liked the description it gave on things such as combines and how they work. I also enjoyed the modern aspect added, ev ...more
Bish Denham
Feb 25, 2015 Bish Denham rated it really liked it
Shelves: children-s-lit
How could wheat harvesting and malaria possibly have in common? Ms. Kadohata does a fine job of weaving these two subjects together. I now know more about wheat harvesting and the people who live that life than I ever didn't before.

Summer's story is touching. Her contentious relationship with her grandmother felt very real. They love each other dearly but... her grandmother is an old world Japanese and doesn't easily show her affections. Summer's younger brother, Jazz, may be autistic or have As
Jan 18, 2015 D.C. rated it liked it
Wow! Am I just dreaming, or has every single novel for young people that has been written in 2013 been great? What a rebound from previous years when the Newbery committee has been forced to work with books that have been filled with much less talent and ingenuity. Let's take a look at the 2013 novels I've read so far and how they stack up:

FLORA & ULYSSES: It was written by Kate DiCamillo, which makes me biased right away, but it's a warming and very humorous lighthearted story that is an in
Richie Partington
Richie's Picks: THE THING ABOUT LUCK by Cynthia Kadohata, Atheneum, June 2013, 288p., ISBN: 978-1-4169-1882-0

"I go to the movie and I go downtown
Somebody keeps telling me don't hang around
It's been a long time coming
But I know a change is gonna come
Oh, yes, it will"
-- Sam Cooke

"The hall light went on, and Jiichan came into the bedroom. He pulled up the chair from my desk.
"'Tonight I tell you the story of a weed,' he said. 'Once when I was a boy, I pulling weeds in orange grove. Day hot, many wee
Ms. Yingling
Aug 29, 2013 Ms. Yingling rated it liked it
Summer's family works with custom harvesters, and her parents normally travel around the west to run the combines, but this year they have both gone back to Japan to help with elderly relatives. That leaves Summer, her quirky younger brother, and her grandparents, Obaachan and Jiichan, to go with the Parkers and an Irish crew to harvest. Obaachan does the cooking, but her back has been very painful. Jiichan drives the big trucks, but the long hours involved in this work are hard on him. Summer h ...more
Dec 04, 2013 Kristin rated it it was ok
If I had to use one word to describe this book, it would be: boring. This book was boring. It was so boring I couldn't stand it. The premise was unique and had a lot of promise. A 12-year-old girl who has recently recovered from a bout with malaria spends her summer with her brother and grandparents wheat harvesting in the Midwest. Several things provide the basic construct for the story. Summer is so afraid of catching malaria again that she obsessively scrubs her skin with DEET (a worrisome ch ...more
Aug 20, 2013 Fran rated it really liked it
Summer is convinced that her family has run out of luck. Her parents have to travel to Japan just as harvest time hits, her brother can't make friends at school, and she is just getting over malaria. She comes from a family of "wheaties," so harvest time is what pays the bills. Summer's grandparents have to step in and cover the harvest, despite their age, in order to cover the mortgage. This family is seeing hard times, but this book is all about rising to the occasion. The banter between Grand ...more
Nov 22, 2013 Teragram rated it really liked it
Shelves: juvi
Summer is the daughter of a family who work as custom harvesters, traveling the country during harvest season and driving the huge combine machines that harvest wheat. This year, her parents have to return to Japan to take care of elderly relatives, so she and her younger brother, Jaz, are left with their grandparents (her grandmother travels with the harvesters as a cook, while her grandfather is a combine driver).

This book is very much a slice of life story. Summer is only twelve, but she is a
Jul 13, 2013 Ms.Patterson rated it really liked it
Shelves: 5thgrade, 4th-grade
I liked this quiet book a lot, but I keep looking around for it thinking I didn't finish it. I did. But it just sort of ends and I really want to spend more time with the characters. Partly it was because they were interesting characters. Partly, the book just ends and that speaks to the lack of strong plot. The book doesn't need it, because this is really a character driven book, but sometimes these can be hard sells to kids.

The main characters are of Japanese decent, living in Kansas, and wor
Francesca Caputo
Sep 05, 2015 Francesca Caputo rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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Cynthia Kadohata is a Japanese American writer known for writing coming of age stories about Asian American women.

She spent her early childhood in the South; both her first adult novel and first children's novel take place in Southern states. Her first adult novel was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year.

Her first children's book, Kira-Kira, won the 2005 Newbery Medal. Her first published s
More about Cynthia Kadohata...

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“Suddenly, Mr. Parker’s shoulders drooped and he gave up, mumbling, “Happy wife, happy life.” 3 likes
“Sometime it very inconvenient to tell the truth.” 3 likes
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