THE LOTTERYS PLUS ONE: Emma Donoghue Writes for Middle-Graders

BookendsCindy: I grew up watching The Brady Bunch, but I can only imagine what fun someone could have with the new, millennial version of a blended family presented in The Lotterys Plus One (2017). When Lynn and I learned that Emma Donoghue (The Wonder, Room) had written her first middle-grade novel, we weren’t sure what to expect. What we found was controlled chaos, delight, and heart in a Toronto family lead by two sets of gay parents—a male couple from Delhi and the Yukon, and a female couple of Jamaican and Mohawk descent. The four of them live happily in a large, rambling house called Camelottery with seven children, some adopted. A lottery windfall allows the parents to homeschool their children and provide varied and unique learning experiences. Our protagonist, nine-year-old Sumac—all of the children are named after trees—is currently studying Mesopotamia.

Lotterys Plus One by Emma DonoghueCamelottery is lively chaos and relaxed fun, but that all changes when Grumps comes to live with them after his dementia progresses too far for him to live alone. Sumac is a good girl, but this change to her household is hard. Grumps lives up to his nickname: He is as miserable to be there as Sumac is to have him, especially since she is the one asked to give up her bedroom for him and be his guide. She thinks he’s a robber of sorts:

The Lotterys were in a jar, like treasure in ancient Mesopotamia,
and he’s barged his way in and cracked the seal off.

Grumps doesn’t approve of their lifestyle, the colors of their skin, their strange hippy food, or their weird names. Watching Grumps and Sumac come to terms with each other was my favorite part of this eclectic family’s adventures. Donoghue keeps us inside Sumac’s head, and it is a fabulous place to be as she struggles with many conflicting feelings about the changes in her life and home. Give this to fans of Hillary McKay and Polly Horvath’s crazy family stories.

Lynn: I think I want to be a member of this family! I’m fairly sure, however, that like Sumac, I’d need to retreat to my room fairly often with a stack of books.

This truly lovely story is all about family and what families do for each other. But it’s also about change, adapting to that change, and love. In the hands of a lesser writer, it would have been a soppy mess, but thanks to Donoghue’s understated mastery of character, we have instead a wryly affectionate portrait of people who love, respect, and appreciate each other, while still seeing each other as individuals—no mean feat for the twelve occupants of the Camelottery—and Donoghue’s strong characterization allows we readers that same opportunity. I was charmed by Caroline Hadilaksono’s illustrations, but I read an early galley of the book with many unfinished drawings—all the more reason to look forward to seeing a finished copy.

Sly social commentary, clever word play, and a deep understanding of human nature give the reader plenty to think about, as well as provide a joyous reading experience. I was reluctant to finish the last page, still more reluctant to let this family go.

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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