Academic journal article English Journal

The Thing about Luck

Academic journal article English Journal

The Thing about Luck

Article excerpt

The Thing about Luck Cynthia Kadohata. New York: Atheneum, 2013, 270 pages. Grades 6 to 9. ISBN 978-1-4169-1882-0. National Book Award, "Best Book" lists in SLJ and PubWkly.

Of the contemporary, realistic books, Kadoha- ta's The Thing about Luck surprised us the most by how much solid informa- tion we gained from read- ing Kadohata's warm and fascinating story not only about the big-time har- vesting of wheat in such states as Kansas and Texas, but also about child labor, mosquitoes, malaria, cross-generational family relationships, the blend- ing of Japanese and American family values, and how skilled immigrants come from Europe to work during the crucial few weeks in which the great American wheat crop must be harvested. The book starts with a page and a half of "Acknowledgments" where Kadohata thanks the members of a family in Kansas and a family in Texas who own and manage custom harvesting companies. Not only did they let her "badger them constantly" with questions but they also patiently answered her emails and read the manuscript multiple times to catch parts that could be misinterpreted. One of the companies even let her ride in their 30,000-pound combine, which had cost them more than $35,000.

The heart of the story revolves around these huge, expensive machines and how each family that has developed a harvesting company has to coordi- nate their equipment and their hired workers so as to do the harvesting for several large-scale farmers, probably located long distances from each other. The biggest challenge is that the wheat must be harvested, in the relatively short time between its ripening and the arrival of fall winds and rain.

Kadohata grew up in a Japanese American family as reflected in her earlier books Kira Kira and Weedflower, but still she thanked two Japanese women for checking the Japanese expressions that she included, and she also thanked two Irish com- bine drivers, a child psychologist, an entomologist specializing in mosquitos, and a woman who had suffered through a case of malaria. Twelve-year-old Summer is the narrator and begins her story with an explanation: "Kouun is 'good luck' in Japanese, and one year my family had none of it. We were cursed with bad luck. Bad luck chased us around, point- ing her bony finger. …

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