Last year, I "ran away from home" (any semblance of ordinary home-life) and into a 1969 Oasis travel trailer. My trailer was parked in the driveway of a lovely and tolerant friend in Portland, Oregon and not in the prickly burr-filled, hot as heck Hard Pan, California desert, but it made me feel scrappy and salt-of-the earth anyway--a bit like I was living in a middle-reader book à la Susan Patron's Newberry award-winning The Higher Power of Lucky.
I decided to revisit this honest and inspiring pebble of a book because of it's resemblance to this year's winner--the unstoppable Jack Gantos' Dead End in Norvelt. Each takes place in a Podunk town, and each offers readers a rare and refreshing dose of realism. It is her eavesdropping on the rock-bottom stories of 12-Steppers at Hard Pan's Found Object Wind Chime Museum that occasions 10-year-old Lucky's quest for her own higher power, for example.
Having grown up dad-less and dirt-poor, having faced the sudden death of her mother, having adjusted (mostly) to trailer life with a new loving but flawed French legal Guardian, having befriended outcasts, and having committed herself wholeheartedly to the field of entomology (she takes Darwin for her role model!), I would argue Lucky never lacked any power but the power to see that power, and belief in the love of her friends and new-found family. Lucky fearlessly fends of killer snakes for Pete's sake!
It takes a harrowing head-long odyssey into a dust storm, during which Lucky straight-up saves a five-year-old, reviving him with cold beans, ketchup and fig Newtons, and a final informal and impromptu send off for her mother for Lucky to find some faith in the strength of her own spirit!
The Higher Power of Lucky is the perfect book for anybody building a new life in the wake of change big or small, or running away to figure out what to come back to.
Check out the NYTimes article
about the uproar instigated by Patron's inclusion of a particular male body part on the FIRST PAGE of the book! I totally side with Patron on this one--I found Lucky's fixation on the word to be a pretty awesome illustration of the
utterly normal curiosity about new language and bodily functions common to all adolescents (and grown-ups too)!See also From the Mixed-Up Files of Ms. Basil E. Frankweiler, my favorite book and another unforgettable runaway story!