Plot Summary: Lucky, age ten, can’t wait another day. 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. 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. But she hadn’t planned on a dust storm. Or needing to lug the world’s heaviest survival-kit backpack into the desert.
When this book won the Newbery, the big buzz was that it used the word ‘scrotum’ on the first page. There was talk of censoring it, removing it from library shelves, etc, which isn’t really new and I usually ignore such talk. If a book sounds interesting to me, I’m going to read it regardless of whether it’s got a stamp of approval. Anyway, what really intrigued me was a passing comment I’d recently heard...
I can’t remember who, but someone had written an article questioning the choices of recent Newbery winners, and she commented that THE HIGHER POWER OF LUCKY can hardly be criticized because of the use of one particular word. That piqued my interest. Did she mean there was more to criticize than that one word? I had to read it to find out...
As with all my book discussions, there are SPOILERS below.
The story is okay. Not terrible, but not fantastic. It didn’t really stand out as something special to me.
I will say that the mere use of the word ‘scrotum’ doesn’t bother me in the least, as long as it’s appropriate for the story. All words chosen must be appropriate for the story. Every single one.
In this case, I’m not sure if it is. Lucky has a habit of eavesdropping on Alcohol Anonymous meetings, and she overhears Short Sammy tell a story about how his dog got bit on the scrotum by a snake. Two things didn’t seem right to me here: a guy named “Short Sammy” used the word scrotum instead of the more common slang? Doesn’t ring true to me. Also, the town of Hard Pan, California has 43 people living in it. Next to a desert. In the middle of nowhere. Why does it have half a dozen AA-type programs? Makes it sound like the whole population is digging themselves out of more than one addiction...
There were some other parts to the story that didn’t make much sense to me. The first, and most obvious: Brigitte, the ex-wife of Lucky’s father, and no relation to Lucky at all. Lucky’s father asks Brigitte to essentially raise Lucky for him. I think most ex-wives would tell their ex-husbands where to stick it if they’d been asked to do this. But, not only does Brigitte agree, she moves to a different country to raise a child that’s not her own. I raised my eyebrow at that, but let it go because I’m sure there are super-nice people like that somewhere in the world. I also shrugged off the potential passport/overstay issues.
However, I couldn’t figure out why Lucky *had* to run away. I know why she did – because she thought Brigitte was leaving her to go back to France. So, why didn’t Lucky talk to Brigitte about this? If Brigitte had been gruff or a closed-type person, I could understand it. But Brigitte is incredibly nice, and it’s obvious she’d listen to whatever was bothering Lucky. So why didn’t Lucky talk to her? Given the way the story and characters were written, I can’t figure that one out. And it makes the ending feel contrived, like she needed to run away for the sake of the story, so the author pulled a reason from the air.
This brings me to the biggest issue I had with the story.
Even if there’s a good reason for Lucky to run away and I’m simply missing it, there is no way I’m going to believe the manner in which she ran away. Throughout the story, she consistently has an affinity for science. She has lived in the desert her whole life. And yet, when it’s time to leave, she puts on Brigitte’s silk slip dress before tramping off into the desert? She would know better. Heck, I don’t live near a desert and even I know better than that.
Next, a dust storm kicks up. Her idea of protection? A dish towel wrapped around her head. Again, she’d know better. Especially with a dust storm so severe that school closes.
No matter how I look at it, this book just doesn’t add up. And I’m still scratching my head as to how this book won the Newbery. But since I’m not on the committee, I’m not privy to their decision-making. Therefore, I can only offer my humble opinion.