Lynn: Close your eyes and picture this scene in your mind: The setting sun is shading from golden to purple, back-lighting a vast field of golden grain and from our somewhat elevated perspective we see five huge combines in a slightly staggered formation sailing toward us, a great wave of golden haze behind them. It is the people who work a harvesting crew just like that who are the focus of Kadohata’s unusual new book, The Thing About Luck (S&S/Atheneum 2013).
Summer’s family are “wheaties,” workers for a contract harvesting crew that start in Texas and work their way north with the season. This is a year of bad luck for Summer’s family that began with 12-year-old Summer contracting a rare case of malaria and nearly dying. Now Summer’s parents have been called back to Japan to care for ill relatives. They need the harvesting season to make the mortgage payments for the year so Summer’s grandparents come out of retirement to work the crew, Jiichan as a driver and Obaachan as cook. Summer and her little brother, Jaz will travel with them and Summer will help her grandmother.
It is hard work in challenging conditions and Kadohata has clearly done her research. Summer narrates the story and it is her immediate and thoroughly engaging voice that takes readers into a world that will be very foreign to many of them. Summer provides lots of detail about the harvest, perhaps a bit too much in places as the story gets off to a slow start, but it is also fascinating especially as seen through the eyes of young girl who shares her universal experiences. Summer has her first crush, clashes with her demanding irascible grandmother and squabbles with her little brother. Kids whose biggest chores are doing the dishes and taking out the garbage will be astonished at the responsibilities and amount of work expected of Summer. The characters shine here, from Summer’s wonderfully portrayed family down to the revealing cameos of the farmers the crew works for. And hats of to Kadohata for giving young readers a first-hand look at this critical but over-looked segment of our country.
This book has special resonance for me. My husband’s first job out of college was as a test engineer for John Deere and we spent 17 years in Iowa where I, in particular, learned so much and gained an open-ended appreciation for the people of the plains. Those big green machines still give me a thrill.
Cindy: Lynn and I are holed up in a hotel room in Kalamazoo, MI (Yes, there really is a Kalamazoo) for the Michigan Association for Media in Education Annual Conference. While we were prepping for Friday’s Best Books presentations we are giving Lynn was keeping an eye on the National Book Award Announcements. We learned late last night that the Youth Literature Award went to The Thing About Luck. Congratulations to Cynthia Kadohata! There’s a short interview with her here. I haven’t read this book yet, but Lynn already had this post written waiting for me to get to it. I guess I’d better get on that…but perhaps I’ll finish prepping for Friday’s presentations and then reward myself with this winner.