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The Hard Pan Trilogy #1

The Higher Power of Lucky

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Believing that her French guardian is about to abandon her to an orphanage in the city, ten-year-old Lucky runs away from her small town with her beloved dog by her side in order to trek across the Mojave Desert in this Newbery Medal–winning novel from Susan Patron.

Lucky, age ten, can't wait another day. The meanness gland in her heart and the crevices full of questions in her brain make running away from Hard Pan, California (population 43), the rock-bottom only choice she has.

It's all Brigitte's fault -- for wanting to go back to France. Guardians are supposed to stay put and look after girls in their care! Instead Lucky is sure that she'll be abandoned to some orphanage in Los Angeles where her beloved dog, HMS Beagle, won't be allowed. She'll have to lose her friends Miles, who lives on cookies, and Lincoln, future U.S. president (maybe) and member of the International Guild of Knot Tyers. Just as bad, she'll have to give up eavesdropping on twelve-step anonymous programs where the interesting talk is all about Higher Powers. Lucky needs her own -- and quick.

But she hadn't planned on a dust storm.

Or needing to lug the world's heaviest survival-kit backpack into the desert.

144 pages, Hardcover

First published November 7, 2006

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About the author

Susan Patron

16 books47 followers
Susan Patron specialized in Children's Services for 35 years at the Los Angeles Public Library before retiring in 2007, the same year her novel The Higher Power of Lucky was awarded the John Newbery Medal. As the library's Juvenile Materials Collection Development Manager, she trained and mentored children's librarians in 72 branches. Patron has served on many book award committees, including the Caldecott and Laura Ingalls Wilder Committees of the American Library Association. She is currently a member of the Advisory Board of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.

Patron's previous books for children include the Billy Que trilogy of picture books; Dark Cloud Strong Breeze; and a chapter book, Maybe Yes, Maybe No, Maybe Maybe. All earned starred reviews, and the latter was named an ALA Notable book. The Listening Library audio edition of The Higher Power of Lucky is an ALA Notable Recording; the book will be translated into twelve foreign languages and has been optioned for a motion picture. A sequel, Lucky Breaks, will be published early in 2009. Married to a rare book restorer from the Champagne region of France, Susan is working on the final book in the "Lucky" trilogy.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,609 reviews
Profile Image for Calista.
3,878 reviews31.2k followers
August 23, 2018
There is a lot of talk about scrotum in this story. Strange and somewhat funny. I do like that Brigitte is French. What can I say? I love the French.

This story did not draw me in. It really didn't land much for me. There were some character moments that were good, but I didn't feel the story had much direction or a whole lot to say. I did appreciate Lucky searching for her higher power. That was interesting.

Otherwise, I don't have a whole lot to say on the book. It did win the Newberry and I would not have chosen this book for the Medal - that's just me. It's an ok story, but not a great story.
Profile Image for Angela Dawn.
22 reviews25 followers
May 6, 2007
This sleeper book is one of the most innovative, honest, and compassionate pieces of children's literature that I have read in a long time.
Through the endearing character of Lucky, the intelligent, insightful, resourceful, and resilient ten-year-old girl who became the foster child of her absentee father's French ex-wife after the death of her mother, we are given a child's eye view of a number of complex social issues in the well-named desert community of Hard Pan, CA., all handled with sensitivity and the gentle unselfconscious honesty that is natural to children.
Read it out loud to your family if you enjoy the sterling ring of emotional truth.
This book will build the self-esteem of anyone who reads it, especially children, due to it's sheer human-heartedness.
It is only the most deluded and amnesiac adult who believes that children don't know that life is really this complicated. When we stop pretending it isn't, we make ourselves truly emotionally available to children, and allow them to trust us, and use us as an honest gauge for measuring their own emotional truth.
We become real grown ups for them at last.

Once you get to know Lucky you'll never forget her.
Beautiful. Your heart will stand up and cheer.
This book is quite an achievement and I hope to see much more from this author very soon.

Just a note: this would be an excellent book for any child, but would be particularly valuable for children whose lives include issues of poverty, death of a parent, foster care, adoption, or adults recovering from substance abuse, and to help children whose lives don't include these things to understand them in a compassionate way at a level approprriate for children.
Adults themselves might find it very valuable, also.

As far as controversy over the author's very appropriate use of the word "scrotum", I believe that American's should be embarrassed that the puritanical neurosis about identifying body parts with accurate scientific language has lived this long in our culture.
Why should we continue to teach children that their bodies are bad by attempting to euphemize perfectly good body parts out of existence?
I know grown women who still talk about the vulva or vagina as "down there" or 'wee-wee" for goodness sake!
I'd rather any child of mine know the real names of body parts and have that pride of ownership that leads to a sense of self care, than to shame them about what is perfectly natural by treating it's legitimate name like a "dirty" word.
People really need to get their minds out of the gutter and their vocabulary out of the 19th century.
Essentially we end up a nation of people who only know what amounts to slang terms for important body parts.
No wonder we are as a nation, a people who are obsessed with sex, frustrated in our needs, can't stand therapeutic touch, and can't talk intelligently about our own bodies, even as adults.
It is a developmental norm for children to think and talk about their own and others body parts in what we might consider a somewhat grahic way if an adult was speaking.
They are just beginning to understand who they are emotionally and physically.
It's mistake to derail that natural process.
Instead we should support it by giving them a valid and validating vocabulary.
The writer speaks from a deep understanding of children's needs, experiences, and psychological development, and from an extensive background in Children's Literature. This work helps to fill a gaping void. It brings the life experiences of a large number of children into the warm sunlight of compassion in Children's Literature.
When children find themselves and their real lives in books like this, they will be far more likely to make books a regular part of their lives.
Profile Image for Susan.
596 reviews78 followers
December 13, 2007
This book may ring a bell because of the laughable controversy stirred up over the use of the word "scrotum" in a blink-and-you'll-miss it reference about a snake biting someone's pet dog. Ironically, the author probably chose the clinical term on purpose to avoid trouble, since the significantly rough-around-the-edges character who tells the story would almost certainly phrase it quite differently had he been a flesh and blood figure, but what can you do? As silly as this is, I feel like I have to get that out of the way however, because in reality, while the "scrotum" issue is ridiculous, there are a fair share of legitimate problems with this book (Newbery Award notwithstanding). A little girl who searches (as a classmate of mine eloquently phrased it) for "something bigger than herself" in the somewhat barren world of Flat Pan seems like plot gold, but a good idea executed this ineffectively is still a problem. With the exception of Lucky, the characterizations lack depth. The plot is contrived and liberally glazed with sentimentality. And for a plot so blatantly convenient--the conveniences could at least be a smidge more believable. Does it make sense for a person to open a cafe successfully in a town where everyone receives government-supplied canned goods because no one can afford groceries? Is it remotely believable for the very savvy, well-prepared, and survival-minded Lucky to think for a second that the "perfect" time to implement a plan to run away is in the middle of a well-publicized and dangerous sand storm? Does it make sense for the author to take a heroine who has been enormously likeable and sympathetic through 75% of the book and (with just a few strokes) turn her into an unrepentant mean-tempered brat at the very end? And yet all of this comes to pass. There are Newbery Award books I don't like as much as others, but usually I can at least spot the appeal. This one leaves me in the dark, though.
Profile Image for Karina.
820 reviews
February 9, 2022
"Over and over at the anonymous meetings she'd heard people tell how their situation had gotten worse and worse and worse until they'd hit rock bottom. Only after they'd hit rock bottom did they get control of their lives. And then they found their Higher Power.

Another part of finding your Higher Power was to do a fearless and searching moral inventory of yourself." (PG. 79)

John Newbery Medal- 2006

Ten-year-old Lucky lives in Hard Pan, California. Population 43. Her mom died two years ago and her dad's ex-wife came from France to be her Guardian because her dad never wanted children. Lucky only wants stability and the fear of abandonment consumes her, but I will say, she is a tough kid.

From the start of the novel I just loved reading about Lucky and Hard Pan. It sounds like the kind of town where if someone doesn't kill you there will be an animal or natural disaster that does. I loved all the flawed characters and the way they all looked out for one another. Towns like this cease to exist. It held a certain nostalgia of playing outside all day until the street lights came. Television was never a fun option.

This was a great middle school read and very short.
Profile Image for Janssen.
1,575 reviews3,599 followers
February 2, 2008
Overall, I just can't understand why this book won the Newbery, unless it was a sad year for children's lit. I just started listening to another Newbery book, A Wrinkle in Time," and in the introduction, the author comments that adults don't understand this book, but children "get it." I feel like this book is the exact opposite; I'm sure some adults felt like it was deep and meaningful and rich, but I suspect many children will find it a bit dull and depressing. Also, I found the book to be a bit of a paradox in that it seemed like an adult message with a childishly simple (and often hole-filled) plot.

It's certainly not a book I would recommend to my brother or any other kid that was the recommended age. It just wasn't that great and it certainly wasn't memorable. I've read Newbery's that moved me to tears, like Bridge to Terabithia and Walk Two Moons. I've read ones that I thought about for weeks afterwards, like The Giver. I've read ones that just charmed the socks off of me, like Caddie Woodlawn. This book did none of these for me. It will likely be most remembered for the wild publicity and protests that the inclusion of the word "scrotum" caused.

Read my full review at http://everydayreading.blogspot.com/2...
Profile Image for Brandy.
Author 2 books115 followers
March 30, 2007
I’m not sure what can be said about this that hasn’t already been said—it’s a good book, a very pretty book, somewhat atmospheric, in its way. But there’s not a lot of action. It’s another in the Newbery committee’s standards: a book with a strong character who has some internal conflict, but not a whole lot happens externally. In this particular case, I think it worked better than, say, Criss Cross, because THPOL really is about being in a town that’s perfectly happy with the status quo. The big conflict comes when 10-year-old Lucky finds evidence that her guardian, Brigitte—who came all the way from France to take care of her—wants to move back to her home country, probably without Lucky. The conflict is resolved in pretty much the way I’d expected, but it was still very sweet and comforting.

That’s the main word I think I’d use for it, actually—comforting. It’s a story of a girl who lives a quiet life, surrounded by people she loves and who loves her. Reading this book leaves you with the feeling that you’ve been sitting on the couch with a loved one—it’s not quite a hug, but still a very comfortable proximity, if that makes any sense. It wouldn’t have been my choice for the Newbery (I’ve ranted on this in earlier years; I find it very sad that books like Ramona stand no chance at all these days), but I can appreciate that they did finally choose a middle-grade book, instead of the teen-friendly novels they’ve been picking.
Profile Image for Daniel.
2,384 reviews36 followers
April 7, 2010
I've made it a habit to read the Newbery Medal winning books, and often I read the runners-up as well. What I've found is that lately I have been less than impressed with the winning titles. This particular winner typifies my dislike for the winning choices.

What we have in this book is all the didactic qualities that the ALA seems to like, mixed in with a parent-less youth, who happens to be bright enough to overcome her own situation. It's the same qualities that we found in KIRA-KIRA, CRISPIN, A SINGLE SHARD, BUD NOT BUDDY, HOLES, and so on. What we don't have is a strong story. Even the School Library Journal described the book in their review as a "character-driven novel."

Characters can be wonderful and fun, and hold a reader's interest, but still a novel needs a story. Patron's book just doesn't have enough story to keep me interested (and I felt that the characters were odd or unusual to drive a novel, not because they needed to be).

The writing is unusually flat for an award-winning book. It seems almost a crime to put this book on the same shelf as Konigsberg's or Lowry's or Spinelli's.

This feels like a book that was written to get ALA Newbery interest, and not a book written to catch the interest of a young reader.

Much has been written about the book's rather casual use and descriptions for the word "scrotum." Patron and the ALA and past Newbery Honor winners can defend this all the want, and I most certainly would defend the author's right to write a book in any way she so chooses. However, I would also defend the right of readers to shout and howl against this word choice.

Personally, I would not (and won't) advocate that my children read this book. I know that it will make them uneasy, and quite rankly, there's just not enough in the book to make it worthwhile to have to read some 'shocking' word choices. Is 'scrotum' an appropriate word for young readers? I don't think so. Should a book, aimed at pre-teen readers also have young characters speak clinically about a penis or vagina? No, and I don't know why there would be any difference.

That the ALA saw fit to award this book the medal is absolutely shocking and only serves to lessen the honor of the award itself.

Profile Image for Roya Fourstar.
274 reviews33 followers
June 19, 2015
رمان نیروی برتر لاکی اثر سوزان پاترون شخصیتِ فرعیِ عزیزی دارد که داستان با ماجرای زندگیِ او آغاز می‌شود و نه دغدغه‌های لاکی، قهرمانِ رمان. این شخصیتِ فرعی سمی نام دارد و درگذشته، یک معتاد تمام‌عیار بوده و حالا، یکی از اعضای جلسه‌های «دوازده گام» است.

«دوازده گام» رسم و سنتِ رایج در انجمن‌های معتادان گم‌نام (NA) است و خانم پاترون برای پیش‌برد قصه‌اش از اصول این آیینِ معتادانِ در حال ترک استفاده می‌کند تا شخصیّت اصلی را به کشف نیروی برتر درونی‌اش سوق دهد. در فصلِ ابتدایی رمان، لاکی گوش ایستاده و حرف‌های سمی کوچکه را می‌شنود که دارد تعریف می‌کند چه شد که تصمیم گرفت برای ترک مصرف مواد مخدر اقدام کند و پاک بماند. نویسنده به سمی اجازه می‌دهد تا صحبت کند و همین حرف‌ها و خاطره‌هاست که نقش لاکی را روشن و مسئله‌ی بزرگ زندگی‌ِ او را مشخص می‌کند؛ اگر روزی به آخرِ خط برسم، چه معامله‌ای با خودم می‌کنم؟

لاکی خانواده‌ی ازهم‌پاشیده‌ای دارد و بی‌پدر و مادرش با زنی فرانسوی زندگی می‌کند که سال‌ها پیش عاشق پدر لاکی شده بود و حالا، فارغ شده. زندگی لاکی و نامادری‌اش پُر از مسائل و مشکلاتِ ریز و درشت است؛ از تنگاهای مالی تا دل‌تنگی‌های خانوادگی. برای همین، لاکی مدام می‌ترسد که روزی‌روزگاری نامادری‌اش او را رها کند و به کشور خودش برگردد. این هراسِ دائم باعث شده تا لاکی آشفته و پریشان باشد و نسبت به خودش و دیگران اعتماد و اطمینان نداشته باشد و خانم نویسنده برای این‌که دستِ دخترک داستان را بگیرد و از این تلاطمِ درونی و مشکلات زندگی بیرون بکشد، سمی را هم‌چون نشانه‌ای راه‌نما در مسیر زندگیِ لاکی قرار می‌دهد تا او را به امنیّت و شکوفایی برساند.

شخصیتِ سمی باورپذیر و پذیرفتنی است و درون‌مایه‌ی رمان را عمیق‌تر می‌کند. اشاره‌ی خوبِ سوزان پاترون به جلسه‌های «دوازده گام» و بیانِ قصّه‌ی سمی برای رهایی از اعتیاد فرصتی برای ارائه‌ی رهنمودهایی غیرمستقیم است و آزادگی و زندگی را به مخاطب نوجوان می‌‌آموزد. سمی نمونه‌ای از انسان‌هایی است که به مرز نابودی و نیستی رسیده‌اند و در ناامیدی مطلق، دستی آن‌ها را تکان می‌دهد و به سویِ دیگر مرز می‌کشاند تا دوباره شانسِ زندگی داشته باشند.

سوزان پارتون با این شخصیتِ فرعیِ عزیز نشان می‌دهد که چگونه می‌توان درباره‌ی موضوع ناخوش‌آیند اعتیاد و مسائل معتادان به‌شکل خوش‌آیند و داستانی سخن گفت و رمانی نوشت که تلخ و گزنده نباشد و پیام‌آور امید و بخشنده‌ی شادی بود.
Profile Image for Abdollah zarei.
175 reviews57 followers
June 22, 2022
از یک کتاب برنده مدال نیوبری توقع بیشتری داشتم. ولی کلیت داستان و محیطی که داستان پیش میرفت رو دوست داشتم. یه کم منو یاد کتاب گودال ها می انداخت ولی اصلا قابل قیاس نیستن
Profile Image for Meagan.
1,317 reviews46 followers
September 29, 2007
I primarily chose to read this book because it has been challenged in school libraries. If it hadn't been, I might never have found it. (Thank you, censorship flunkies!) I thought this book was tender and poignant, and the characters, particularly Lucky, were very sympathetic and three-dimensional. The tale follows Lucky, whose father never wanted children and whose mother died when she was young. She is now cared for by her father's first wife, Brigitte, who happens to be French. Lucky spends most of the book worrying about her future, hoping that Brigitte won't leave for France, and feeling vulnerable and insecure. I challenge anyone not to care for Lucky and her friends, and to hope that things turn out all right. This is one Newbery winner that definitely earned the distinction! (By the way, in case you're wondering why it was challenged, the whole basis was the author's use of the word "scrotum," a perfectly legitimate anatomical word used correctly in a non-threatening context.)
Profile Image for Jen.
688 reviews28 followers
March 13, 2009
My elder daughter and I went to a book reading by Susan Patron this evening which inspired me to finally write a review of The Higher Power of Lucky. This was, frankly, one of the most inspiring children's books that I've read in years. How often is it that authors tackle life, death, addiction and meanness without tottering over into Monday Night Movie territory? Patron handles these topics with class and style, or as her character Brigitte might say, "panache."
Lucky is 10 years old and lives in Hard Pan,CA (Pop.43) among the champion misfits of the state. As she eavesdrops on the various 12 step meetings that occur at the Wind Chime Museum, she ponders what her "higher power" might be. Once her guardian, the super stylish and French Brigitte, looks like she might leave Hard Pan, Lucky hits rock bottom and must find that higher power to carry on. Strong stuff excellently told.
My remarkable then-five year old and I read this together. It gave us a lot to talk about, and some things to cry about. And yes, she asked what a scrotum was.
Profile Image for Chance Lee.
1,326 reviews121 followers
May 28, 2017
The Higher Power of Lucky tells the story of Lucky, an anxiety-ridden ten-year-old girl in the dusty Mojave village of Hard Pan, population: 43. After the death of her mother two years ago, and being abandoned by her father, Lucky is in the care of her father's first wife, a French woman named Brigitte. Lucky constantly frets that Brigitte will leave and return to France. To make Brigitte stay, Lucky decides to run away into the desert.

Lucky, to me, vacillated between "adults woman writing a ten-year-old" and "ten-year-old logic," but to be fair, I don't know many ten-year-olds, and I spent my own Year 10 disassociated from reality, so I may not be the best judge. The other characters, however, were surprisingly well-crafted in a book of this length. I really understood Brigitte. And what I appreciated was that Lucky viewed Brigitte through her own lens, but the reader can filter out Lucky's judgment and understand Brigitte's adult reality. Lucky also hangs out with seemingly the only other two children in Hard Pan: Lincoln and Miles. Lincoln is Lucky's age and is fixated on tying knots. Miles is five, and, abandoned by his own mother (she's in jail), he constantly pesters Lucky to read "Are You My Mother?" to him.

The relationship between Lucky and Miles is subtle, but serves as a nice mirror to that of Lucky and Brigitte. Young Lucky is a mother-figure to grubby little Miles, but she doesn't realize it. She often projects her own insecurities onto him in a vicious way that people tend to do. The psychology of the characters is very complex.

I love the little town of Hard Pan. It's an insanely small place filled with people who have to be insane to live there, yet they don't come across as overtly nuts or Wes Anderson-quirky. They feel like real people with feelings and reasons for being there.

Certain scenes are punctuated with illustrations by Matt Phelan. The illustrations are absolutely wonderful. His little pencil sketches show fine details, like wisps of hair and intricate knots. They help bring this little world alive.

To conclude my review, I'll say that I plan on reading another book featuring this character.

That doesn't mean I'm done typing, though! Reading other people's reviews make me think about audience. Did I enjoy this book because I'm an adult? Would a 10-year-old actually like it? Like with The Goat, another book allegedly for young readers I recently reviewed, I feel like this book would be best read to a child by an adult. The narrator is third-person omniscient, which lends itself well to that. And I think that a young child reading it would be confused, as Lucky often is, with what's going on.

Also, I learned about the controversy this book caused by having the word "scrotum" on the first page. That led me to this New York Times piece [http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/18/boo...] which includes quotes from LIBRARIANS and EDUCATORS like, "This book included what I call a Howard Stern-type shock treatment just to see how far they could push the envelope," "“If I were a third- or fourth-grade teacher, I wouldn��t want to have to explain that," "I don’t think our teachers, or myself, want to do that vocabulary lesson," and "You won’t find men’s genitalia in quality literature."

Are you fucking kidding me? Who the fuck are these women frothing over an anatomical term? It's not like the book says "cock 'n' balls" or "nutsack." Also, that one person clearly never listened to Howard Stern if she thinks he tries to offend people by saying "scrotum." If these teachers and librarians are so uncomfortable explaining anatomy to a child, they have bigger personal problems than being offended by the word "scrotum." It's unfortunate that their Puritanical neuroses led to this book not being carried in school libraries.
Profile Image for Aj Sterkel.
781 reviews31 followers
December 20, 2019
I really like this book! It’s the kind of story I would have read over and over as a preteen. Ten-year-old Lucky lives with her guardian in a vivid little desert town. Lucky has been abandoned before and sees her guardian’s homesickness for France as a sign that she will soon be abandoned again. To avoid being dumped in an orphanage, Lucky decides to run away and live in the desert.

Every character in this novel is realistically flawed. Lucky has a mean streak and sometimes lashes out at her friends. There isn’t much to do in Lucky’s town, so her favorite hobby is eavesdropping on twelve-step addiction recovery meetings. She hears about the worst moments in her neighbors’ lives. I like this aspect of the novel because it shows young readers that everybody has problems. Everybody makes mistakes. You can recover from them if you put in the effort.

This book doesn’t have much of a plot, but I found the characters interesting enough that I didn’t care. I enjoyed watching Lucky mature and correct her mistakes. There are some brilliant moments of humor. Lucky overhears the word “scrotum” at a twelve-step meeting and badly wants to know what a scrotum is, which is funny and realistic for a ten-year-old girl. There’s also a scene where Lucky’s guardian finds a snake in the clothes dryer and duct tapes the dryer closed so it can’t get out. I think young readers would appreciate the humor.

I don’t have many complaints. As I mentioned, this is a character-focused book, so kids who are used to plot-heavy novels may get bored with the lack of action. My only wish is that the book had more cohesion. There’s some talk of rock bottom, higher powers, and finding the courage to change your life. I wish those elements had been a bigger part of the story. They could have been used to effectively tie the disparate parts of the book together. The plot would have seemed less scattered that way.

“It made her feel discouraged, like if you took the word apart into two sections of dis and couraged. It was getting harder and harder to stay couraged.” – The Higher Power of Lucky

Newbery winners are pretty hit-or-miss for me. I’m happy to report that this one was a hit. As a kid, I would have found Lucky’s mean streak and desire to run away relatable. I would have appreciated the honest way the author depicts the problems of a small town. Where was The Higher Power of Lucky when I was a kid?

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Profile Image for Lisa the Librarian.
386 reviews52 followers
August 22, 2009
This is a Newbery Medal winning book. I had heard all kinds of caveats about it: "There is an 'unsuitable' wordin it." "It is all about a little girl listening to horror stories in Alocholics Anoynmous meetings." "It is just not a well written story."

It is one of those cases where the hype outweighs the actual facts. Because I know it is important to actually read a book before getting all upset about it, and the fact that my library recieved the book as a part of an Newbery collection I decided I should read it and see what all the controversy was about.

I am very conservative, but was not offened by by the book. Yes it has "the word" but not in a gratuitous manner, and yes Lucky, the little girl, listens to some stories in 12 step meetings, but it is more about trying to discover her "higher power" than war stories.

I would not recommend the book to very young children, but a 6th grader should be okay to read it. It could even help some kids who are experiencing some of the same types of challenges as Lucky and her friends.
Profile Image for Yoni.
9 reviews
January 29, 2009
Everyone's life story has the capacity to guide someone else who is searching for a thread of reason through their own. This is a special book, perfect for children. The plot is fairly simple but is riddled with complex themes--just like childhood. I found it difficult, at first, not to pathologize the behavior of each character. But the story serves as a great reminder that we all have our own struggles and our quirks. Those who listen carefully can find comfort in the experiences of others.
Profile Image for Janette.
Author 59 books1,827 followers
May 24, 2011
A cute book, but did anyone else wonder, like I did, why a city with the population of 43 had so many addiction recovery group meetings? I mean, there are 43--people are they all alcoholic, smoking, gambling addicts? Must have been a rough town . . .
Profile Image for SallySnowtiger.
40 reviews
November 12, 2009
The Higher Power of Lucky

Newbery Medal

Grades 5-7

I understand this book is recommended for ages 9-11, and while I agree that the reading level is suited for that age range, the detailed accounts given by characters during 12 step meetings are not. Patron’s writing is about as fluid and graceful as the alcoholic characters in the book. There are a few black and white illustrations throughout the book, very minimal in style, to help give the younger readers a visual sense of the characters’ emotions and scenes being depicted. The story opens with Lucky eavesdropping on Short Sammy telling one of his rock-bottom stories at his 12 -step meeting. He tells a story about his dog, Roy, who was bitten on the scrotum by a snake. Sammy describes his various states of intoxication and how he was too poor to afford rum, so he “made homemade liquor from cereal box raisins and any kind of fruit he could scrounge up.” Would a child of 9-11 years of age truly understand what an alcoholic is, or that Sammy was making moonshine?

The alcoholics, drug addicts, gamblers all seem improbably to be in this town with a population of 43. The main character, Lucky, loses her mother. Her father asks his French ex-wife to come from France and care for his daughter in the trailer park. Brigitte, the French stepmother, had to be named Brigitte since any other name would not be stereotyped enough for Patron who must have exhausted all her creative capabilities thinking up the ironic name for Lucky.
The French stepmother tends to overuse the expression “Oh, la-la, la-la.” Maybe she is supposed to be “French”? This is another fine example of Patron struggling to find her higher power, and it sure is not in writing children’s literature. Patron cannot even seem to create convincing stereotypes!
I do not think this book would rank high on child appeal because the author seems to completely ignore the fact that children ages 9-11 will not relate to serious adult dysfunctions. I do not mean possibly painful or difficult topics such as death and abandonment, nor am I referring to anything that could be controversial, all of which would be fine. I think children would find this book boring because Patron’s writing is crudely unimaginative, and nearly all the characters lack depth.
Scrotums are the least of this book’s problems. The main problem that I see with this book is that it asks children to understand and relate to highly dysfunctional adult behavior. Further, I have to question its purpose. Why would it be important for a child to know or understand what 12-step programs are, what rock-bottom means, why these people are in search of a higher power? It is lucky that this book received a Newbery Medal considering the author does not seem to even know her audience.

Language arts/social studies/science

Grades 5-7
Students can use this book to discuss the characters or write about what they found convincing or not convincing about the characters in this book and why. Compare and contrast Brigitte’s character to Lucky and how are they both in search of their “higher power”? Social Studies/Science this book mentions lots of places in California. Students can study the geography of California and the weather conditions of desert locations. Lucky wants to be a scientist and several insects and animals are mentioned in the book. Students can learn more about the insects and animals mentioned.

This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Linda Lipko.
1,904 reviews43 followers
February 24, 2012
This is one of my favorite Newbery books to date!!!!

Once again, I am in awe of the ability of YA books to reach out and tug at heartstrings while dealing with very complex issues.

I highly recommend this profoundly moving tale of Lucky, a rough and tumble ten year old whose mother died tragically and thus now is in the guardianship of her father's previous wife Brigitte.

Brigitte moves from France to temporarily take care of Lucky until a "real" home can be found.

Living in three tiny connected trailers, existing in poverty in the hot, dry desert community of Hard Pan, California (total population of 43), Lucky, who does not perceive herself as such, fears that one day Brigitte will leave and return to a better life in France.

Shirking the responsibility of raising Lucky, her father periodically sends checks to Bridget that are never enough to cover bare necessities.

Strongly fearing it is only a matter of time until Brigitte moves back to France and thus tosses her aside, Lucky, ever aware of needing protection, carries a "rescue kit" with her at all times.

While sweeping and cleaning the Found Object Wind Chime Museum and Visitor Center, Lucky quietly listens to the testimonials of the AAA meetings where she hears the stories of those saved by trusting the "higher power." Lucky knows that if only she can find her higher power, she will have a better life.

Lucky's friends consist of her lovable, loyal dog HMS Beagle, knot-tying obsessed Lincoln (named because his mother wants him to grow up to be the President of the US), and scrappy little five year old cookie mooching Miles, also a orphan-like waif, raised by his grandmother.

Wanting to be the one who leaves and abandons before this happens to her, Lucky runs away. Using the resources she stashed away in her rescue kit, she lives overnight in a cave.

When Brigitte and town members rescue Lucky, she learns that Brigit is in the process of adopting her and it was never was her plan to leave.

Lucky discovers that her "higher power" is indeed the fact that not only is she loved by Brigitte, but also by the 43 people of the town.
Profile Image for Liza Fireman.
839 reviews144 followers
December 29, 2017
This book was so much fun and very funny. Awesome read for children and parents.

I read this book with my daughter, who loved it even more than I did, and we laughed out loud so many times when Brigitte says “Oh, la-la, la-LA, la-LA, la-LA!”.
Brigitte is a character, she lives with Lucky as a guardian : she had learned to say Brigitte’s name the French way—Bree-JEET—instead of the American way, BRIDGE-it.

Lucky is an orphan, her mom died. She lives with a guardian, Brigitte, an ex of her fathers. When she finds out that Brigitte is planning on leaving back to France, she decided to runs away with her dog, HMS beagle. A mom has the job for life. But a Guardian like Brigitte could probably just say, “Well, that’s about it for this job. I’m going back to France now. Au revoir.”

And for the best part, the Higher Power. It is so funny and so inspirational. And Lucky explains what she understood from the anonymous people that talk about the Higher Power that allows you to control your life: part of finding your Higher Power was to do a fearless and searching moral inventory of yourself.
She didn’t get why finding it was so hard. The anonymous people often talked about getting control of their lives through their Higher Power.

Having a Higher Power, finding it would solve Lucky's problem: Having a Higher Power could help a person know what to do about the problem of a Guardian who, every time it got too hot, or there was French music or a snake in the dryer, seemed like she might quit and go back home to France.

But Lucky knows that it is not easy:
Over and over at the anonymous meetings she’d heard people tell how their situation had gotten worse and worse and worse until they’d hit rock bottom. Only after they’d hit rock bottom did they get control of their lives. And then they found their Higher Power.

Recommended. 4 plus stars.
Profile Image for Medford Children's Library.
38 reviews5 followers
September 28, 2007
Our newest Newbery Award winner introudces us to Lucky, a ten year old girl who is orphaned after the tragic death of her mother. Brigette, her father's exwife, leaves her home in France to take care of her. Lucky becomes anxiety ridden because she believes that this situation is only temporary. She searches for a Higher Power by overhearing AA meetings for strength and answers. She wishes she could have Brigette stay with her, but she knows she misses France. The hot California desert is not the most welcoming and hospitable place. How can she get her to stay? A touching tale about the innocence and insecurity that we all have felt. Despite controversy("With One World Children's Book Sets Off Uproar") over the book's opening page, I thought it was a great book and well worth reading for grades 4 and up.

Food for thought: What are the things you feel lucky for in your life?
Profile Image for Edit Ostrom.
66 reviews
May 10, 2011
Reading this book was like eating raw broccoli. You know it's good for you but you'd rather stop eating. After a while, even broccoli starts tasting good. So, I had to force myself through half the book before I started actually enjoying it and I really doubt a child has enough will power to reach that point.

There were so many things I did not like in the beginning. A child name Lucky? A beautiful, young Frech woman taking care of an American kid in a CA trailer? And the kid is the daughter of her former husband from his second marriage? And the father is just "gone"? It's just all too hard to believe.

But if one gets over these hurdles, it's a good book, and all children with family problems, with absent/dead parents, with legal guardians could relate to it, and to the insecurities that Lucky feels.

Appropriate for 5th or 6th grade, but the reading level and vocabulary is higher than that. In my opinion, this book is a bit hard to digest. By the way, it was a Newbery Award winner and it caused quite a stir when it came out since it used the word "scrotum". I think a bigger problem is that it also mentioned somebody's "pregnant stomach". I am not sure if even little kids say that. It's so obviously wrong. It's either belly or tummmy, or midriff, or whatever, but not stomach.
Profile Image for Stefani.
587 reviews31 followers
February 22, 2008
This Newbery Award winner was a really sweet book. Ten year old Lucky struggles to find her place. After listening in on 12-step programs for various addictions, Lucky seeks to find her higher power. Her mother died only a couple years ago, and to her knowledge, she has never met her father. When she fears that guardian Brigette wants to leave her and return to France, Lucky runs away to find her higher power. The town, Hard Pan, has a population of 43, and the characters presented are as colorful and endearing as aspiring scientist Lucky. Patron's language was beautiful, capturing the innocence and intelligence of the girl, mixing young emotions and a scientific mind.

I listened to this on CD and the narrator Cassandra Campbell definitely did justice to the high quality of the book. From presenting a ten year old to the various French terms, Campbell draws you into the story to fully appreciate the richness of language and plot.
Profile Image for Jonathan.
1,132 reviews9 followers
February 26, 2015
This book was so lazy. I hate books that introduce characters but go into no depth about them like the girl, Lucky's father. You just have to assume so much. On one hand I'm glad this book was so short because I couldn't stand reading any more of it, but on the other hand give us some depth. To be honest I felt like all the characters were lacking. There was just so many questions I was left with about them. Also I'm a sucker for heartfelt endings and I'm not ashamed to admit a lot of books make me cry. This books poor attempt at that left me disappointed more so then emotional. Didn't even come close to bringing feelings into play. You can't bring up a girl's mother one time, throw an emotional bond in at the end and expect me to care. I didn't. The topper for me was when a scene occurred in which the characters were squirting ketchup straight out of packets into their mouth. I'm throwing up just writing this now. Leave this one on the shelf, it stinks.
Profile Image for eva steele-saccio.
40 reviews4 followers
January 16, 2008
I did enjoy this book, though I didn't think it necessarily merited a Newberry. The main character, Lucky, was quirky and intelligent and her adventures were entertaining and ultimately heartwarming. However, I felt like the writing was a bit sloppy, rushed and somewhat lazy in places. Nothing that couldn't be cleaned up with some additional editing, but still, to be bestowed the highest honor in children's literature...the writing should be impeccable. I say this realizing the intent of the prose--to channel a child's voice and often fluid and imaginative thought process without succumbing to a traditional style of narrative. However, I still think it could have been done better. In all, though, an excellent story that deals subtly yet astutely in themes of class difference, friendship, death and loss, sadness and kindness.
Profile Image for Cande.
1,030 reviews180 followers
Shelved as 'dnf'
November 16, 2017

I didn't even read a 25% of the book.

If I have to remember myself that Lucky is a kid and kids are selfish e v e r y paragraph, it doesn't make sense to read the book.

I really tried, but I couldn't pass the arrogance of Lucky. She wasn't a real character, too damn naïve and self-center.

Also, the rigid gender roles and the mother-has-all-the-fault, is annoying as hell. 2006, Patron, stop with that bullshit.

I cannot do it, I hate this kind of children books.
Profile Image for Jackie "the Librarian".
870 reviews260 followers
September 21, 2007
Lucky is a girl being raised in the California desert by her stepmother, but who worries that she will lose her to homesickness. Her stepmother is French, and misses her own mother and home.
There was a lot of hoopla over the word scrotum in this book, but really, this is a slight story not worth all the excitement. It's a Newbery Award winner, for what it's worth, but I don't think it has the universal appeal of a book like Holes.
Profile Image for Westminster Library.
735 reviews54 followers
October 20, 2021
Creatively written, author Susan Patron catches all the emotions and misunderstandings of a young pre-teen. Full of adventure, family relationships both good and bad, friendships and all the other happenings that might occur in a very small town, population 43! In the eyes of a 10 yr old, sometimes it takes running away from home to find out how loved you are.

Find The Higher Power of Lucky at the Westminster Public Library today!

And if you are in search of new books to read, try our services, What Do I Read Next. Our library staff are standing by to create a personalized recommendation list for you!
Profile Image for Jason Pettus.
Author 18 books1,279 followers
January 28, 2010
(I now maintain a blog just for my kid-lit reviews. Find it at http://kidlit4adults.blogspot.com .)

A friend has convinced me to try my hand this year for the first time at children's literature; but I don't actually know anything about children's literature, so am starting the process among other ways by first reading all the books that have won the Newbery Award in the last ten years, although I've been warned that there is sometimes a strong disconnect between such books and what the actual book-buying public really wants. This was the 2006 winner, which reminded me a lot of the '70s Judy Blume / Betsy Byars stuff I myself grew up on -- complex character dramas featuring significantly flawed heroes, that is, and with a strong sense of melancholy throughout. It's the story of ten-year-old Lucky, a strange and slightly arrogant girl living in a dying, post-boom Industrial town in southern California, almost comical in its post-apocalyptic surrealism; the story consists of us simply watching her life for awhile, as among other things she contends with the flighty young French woman who has through bizarre means become her legal guardian, the lonely five-year-old neighbor who constantly trails her like a shadow, and her growing confusion over what exactly she's supposed to do with the ashes of her mother, who died in a recent accident that Lucky blames herself for. The book is around 30,000 words total, and is best in my opinion for older grade-schoolers and younger middle-schoolers.

Here are the main things I took away from this book, as far as the struggle to become a better children's writer myself...

-Patron uses a series of clever devices to get rid of nearly all the adult authority figures, which of course almost all kids love seeing in their favorite literature; the mom dies at the beginning, and the deadbeat dad wants nothing to do with her, convincing his first ex-wife instead to come in and clean up the mess, the flighty young French woman already mentioned, whose life was kind of a trainwreck back in Paris and so didn't have much to lose. And by setting this in a comically post-apocalyptic Industrial ghost town, it gives Patron the perfect excuse to make all the rest of the adults either mentally ill, fried-out hippies, or hermit Unabomber weirdoes. And speaking of which, making Lucky's guardian a flighty young French woman injects a lot of quirky, original humor into what's usually a boilerplate-type character in books like these. They are all inventive ways to stick to age-old kid-lit conventions.

--I like how Lucky is a significantly flawed character who makes plenty of mistakes, an overly curious slight know-it-all who I imagine mirrors many of her real-life fans. It not only brings extra complexity to the story (highly needed in a character drama during these "all vampire, all the time" days), and makes her more easily relatable, but also teaches kids that even when you sometimes mess up, it's still possible to pick up the pieces and keep trudging on. That said, there's also a precocious side to Lucky that I kept thinking just has to make actual kid readers roll their eyes, but that is the very kind of parent-friendly detail that won it the Newbery in the first place. For example, look at the overly cutesy situation that inspires the book's title, the fact that Lucky secretly listens in on the town's 12-step meetings, and has incorrectly surmised that a "higher power" is a literal object that one can acquire, and becomes convinced that it's just what she needs to sort through her mess of a life these days. I can already hear the anguished cries by 12-year-old readers nationwide of "whatEVER," even as the parents fawn at such a concept.

--And finally, how dark is too dark for middle-graders? There's as many different answers as there are people answering it, and it's of course a topic that Patron toys with here too; after all, this is the book that infamously starts on page one with a dog being bitten by a rattlesnake in the scrotum, and Patron actually using the word "scrotum." It was interesting to read a book like this that actually got published and did well for itself; I kept imagining it as one of those manuscripts that gets passed around the industry unsigned for years, until finally the exact right editor comes along who says, "You know, this could very well win next year's Newbery."
Profile Image for Henry Martin.
Author 90 books145 followers
September 23, 2013
I'll admit that aside from reading mostly serious fiction, I read a lot of children's books as well, although only seldom do I review one. To be perfectly honest, most kids' books do not grab me or portray any life lessons, but there are some exceptional authors out there that I praise whenever i have the chance. The benchmark, for me, was set by Kate DiCamillo (almost all of her books) and Suzanne Collins (The Underland Chronicles). Not many authors succeed to come close to this benchmark, but Susan Patron comes very close; very, very close indeed.

The Higher Power of Lucky is an unusual read in the preteen library. Lucky, the main protagonist, could be your typical ten year-old, with a pretty normal ten year-old's mentality. What sets this book apart, aside from Lucky's situation, is the story's setting. Unlike many books in the category where kids typically live happily surrounded by nice things while going on 'an adventure', Lucky's life is anything but this. Her mother recently passed away, her father, whom she never met, lives far away, and her guardian, Brigitte, who came from France, turns out to be her father's first wife. Right there you have enough to set this story apart. But Ms. Patron goes even further: The town where Lucky lives, Hard Pan - population 43, is in the middle of a desert, and its inhabitants live mostly in trailers, old water tanks, and the like. There are no jobs, no prosperity, and more than a few of the inhabitants rely on free government surplus food. There is no school, and Lucky has to travel to school to a better off city, where there are 'fancy restaurants that sprinkle parsley on hamburgers'. The kids Lucky interacts with have their own baggage as well, Lincoln is obsessed with tying knots which he does all the time, and Miles lives with his grandma because his own mother is in jail. There you have it. An amazing slice of life for the young reader.

Lucky has a part time job in the only business in town, the Found Object Wind Chime Museum and Visitor Center, where she sweeps the outside after any of the numerous 'tvelwe-step anonymous' meetings, be it alcoholics, smokers, gamblers, or overeaters. Squatting by a hole in the wall, she listens to stories people tell, stories about how they found a 'higher power' to overcome their addictions. Lucky, feeling not so confident and comfortable in her own life, wants to find her own higher power. Although her main concern is her fear that Brigitte is going to abandon her and go back to France, which would mean that Lucky would end up in a foster home, Lucky, throughout the book, deals with an array of other issues as well.

This is a well-crafted story with a strong merit. Lucky is a strong girl, and a reliable narrator. While the settings and issues are not mainstream, do not let this to sway you away from the book. On the contrary, children can learn a lot from this work. After all, the world is not made of magic castles, and this book is a good introduction to reality. Yes, Lucky's reality is likely worse than most of young readers, but it presents a wonderful opportunity to engage younger readers in a conversation with parents. And what better way to spend quality time with your kids than discussing a well-written book.
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