Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Review of Lucky Breaks by Susan Patron

Lucky Breaks by Susan Patron (Atheneum, March 2009)

Ah! There is really something so soul-satisfying about the heft of a long-anticipated ARC in your hands. Full disclosure – I read earlier versions of the manuscript of Lucky Breaks. But when a manuscript is transformed into an object that looks like a book, with jacket art by Matt Phelan depicting Lucky, Lincoln, and Miles looking up into a very starry sky, and weeds (creosote, perhaps?) growing patchily in front of the words “Susan Patron” – well, it all felt brand-new and I raced through the book once again.

Lucky is about to turn 11, which feels like a real turning-point to her. She’s leaving the immaturity and doubt of her first ten years behind her, or so she sincerely hopes, and is racing forward toward her amazing future. She even makes a new friend named Paloma, the niece of a paleontologist who is exploring the area around Hard Pan with a bunch of other ‘ologists, as Miles calls them. And as Paloma is not only the kind of person with whom you can collapse into helpless giggles, but also shares a name with a long-ago woman whose brooch (or part of it, anyway) might be found in a nearby abandoned well, Lucky feels that there is much significance to their friendship, as well as fun of a unique kind.

Lucky may be bonding with Paloma, but she becomes more and more irritated with her old friend Lincoln, who is not only steadfastly remaining his usual solid, intelligent, knot-tying self, but doesn’t seem to notice Lucky’s turbulent thoughts and inner changes. Worse, he might even abandon her altogether if he wins the knot-tying contest he has entered. Lucky’s meanness gland begins working overtime, much to Lincoln’s bewilderment.

There is a mystery (what on earth is in that coffin-shaped box that Short Sammy had delivered?) and an adventure (abandoned wells and impetuous almost 11-year-olds are not always a good match) and some excellent chat among the denizens of Hard Pan about the nature of our galaxy and how to make good s’mores. Brigitte’s accent comes through with everything she says (“Pfft!”), as she continues to absorb the best of America into her very French core. Oh, and the word “scrotum” does show up, but not until page 44 this time.

But the true heart of this book is Lucky’s always-fascinating inner voice. She is so roiled by a variety of conflicting emotions – impatience, loyalty, hope, frustration, affection, irritation, love, doubt – that she finds herself doing and saying things that make her truly sick of herself. After a bout of fairly awful meanness towards Lincoln, Paloma asks Lucky why she acts that way when Lincoln likes her. Lucky doesn’t know how to answer.
“She knew that she would never like someone like her. She would hate someone like her. She would really, really hate someone who acted like her, and she’d get as far away as she could. But how, Lucky thought, do you get away from someone you can’t stand if that person is you?”
It’s a horrible feeling, and Lucky struggles with it, and against it, throughout the book until she realizes, with a bit of help from Brigitte, that she doesn’t have to feel that way forever.

Not every scene is so intense – many are absolutely hysterical, and some are both intense and funny (like an amazing scene in which Lucky waits at the bottom of a well to be rescued - how does Patron do that?). After I read the chapter in which Miles and Lincoln, to Lucky’s utter amazement and chagrin, charm the socks off Paloma’s sophisticated L.A. parents, I went right back and read it again. Miles leans toward Paloma’s mom Mrs. Wellborne, “sniffing her perfume and very subtly touching the fabric of her blouse. It was clear that Miles was entranced.” He gazes at her “with his chocolate-chip eyes and smiled his dear, tender, cookie-mooching smile,” so that even his oddest comments (caused by some wild lies told earlier by Lucky) prompt only a heart-felt laugh. Lincoln manages to dazzle with some very impressive, technical chat with Mr. Wellborne about his Hummer. The scene is just priceless. Poor Lucky can only come to the conclusion that “the world can be a very mysterious place.”

Readers will be hooked from the very first two paragraphs, which feature some of the most virtuoso writing I have ever come across and which whammed me right onto the bouncy back seat of Lucky’s school bus. It’s good to be back in Hard Pan.

(Matt Phelan’s b/w illustrations were not available for review.)


  1. I'm looking forward to reading it. Are you sharing the ARC?

  2. It's communally owned (and being madly passed around) by our office staff!

  3. Wow. Just from reading this I think that this book is going to be really good!!!! Can't wait to read it!!!!!