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The Higher Power of Lucky

The Higher Power of Lucky
By Susan Patron
ISBN 978-1416901945
Genre: Realistic Fiction
c2006, Athenum, 144 pages

While I still have last year’s Newbery Award winning title sitting on my bookshelf unread, I was compelled to read this year’s book ahead of it. How could I not with all the controversy it’s generated over one little word — scrotum?

I wasn’t sure how I would feel about this book. I already formed half an opinion before I read it, based on all the discussion and news the title generated.

I’m someone who follows children and young adult literature fairly closely, and I’ve noticed that it’s been an increasing trend to sensationalize – throw out words, images, and ideas that kids and teens just aren’t ready for, but that will draw them into read. One argument is that there’s a lot of competition out there between IMing, television, computers, video games, etc. Anything that’ll draw them into read is okay. Yet, lately, I’ve become increasingly uncomfortable with this idea.

It comes from the fact that I see seventh and eighth graders devouring “street literature,” those nitty gritty reality books that are self published and not that well written. When I was there age, which is really not that long ago, I was playing with dolls and reading things I shouldn’t have been reading too. Yet, I was a lot more innocent than the teens and tweens I work with on a day to day basis. I wish they could maintain their innocence too.

So I worry.

The word scrotum doesn’t fall in the same category as the lurid sex scenes in some of these books – that really aren’t age appropriate. That’s the bigger picture. How do we steer teens and tweens to read what’s truly appropriate for their age, interest and maturity level. How do we keep kids from growing up too fast? Can we stop it or do we just ride the wave?

Back to Lucky.

It’s a sweet novel about at ten-year-old girl who’s being raised by her father’s first wife. He can’t be bothered with his daughter and Lucky’s mother died in a freak accident. But Lucky worries that Bridgette, her guardian, is not interested in raising her, but is looking back to move back to France.

How does the word scrotum fit in? In the opening scene, Lucky eavesdrops on an AA meeting. She thinks by listening in on these meetings it will help her find her Higher Power and keep Bridgette close to her. That’s when she hears Short Sammy tell the story of his dog getting bit on the scrotum by a rattle snake and Lucky wonders what does scrotum mean?… as will many of the young kids who are the intended audience for the book.

To be honest, the book could have been written without this little scene and it would have been equally as strong. Yet, it really doesn’t play such a huge role. In fact, I’d completely forgotten about the ‘offensive’ word when Lucky brings it up on one of the last pages. She asked Bridgette what it means. It bothered me, until I realized that this was about Lucky coming full circle. At the start of the story, she didn’t trust Bridgette enough to ask her if she was staying, or to ask what a word means. Lucky thinks she has to survive on her own. By the conclusion of the story, she trusts Bridgette enough to ask for help where she needs it.

As usual, the hoopla was overdone. Let the book sit on a library shelf. The bottom line is that parents need to be more involved with their children’s reading. If a parent is uncomfortable with their child reading this book, then please don’t let your child read it. But it’s not for any individual to decide what does or does not go on the library’s shelf because of one possibly offensive word.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 20th, 2007 08:54 pm (UTC)
I'd like to add this to my friends page, if you don't mind. I'm into the book blogging myself, here: http://raidergirl3-anadventureinreading.blogspot.com/
Feel free to browse around.

Nice review of the book, and thanks for showing where and why "the word" is in the story. I can't see Jack being interested in it right now, he's reading all the Harry Potters to himself. I read, outloud!, the first 5 to him, and he wants to get up to the last book, so he can read it.
Mar. 20th, 2007 10:19 pm (UTC)
I'll have to check out your blog....
And frankly, the whole 'scrotum' thing got a big out of hand, even though I'm not sure if I had an 8-year-old I'd want them reading the book.... but that's because I blush at the idea of trying to define it for them. (Of course, I can just say, read the whole book, it explains it!)
Mar. 20th, 2007 11:21 pm (UTC)
I haven't yet read "The Higher Power of Lucky" (or last year's Newberry winner for that matter, although I did try!) But we briefly discussed "Lucky" at my last YA book club meeting; for that matter the subject of street lit came up too, even though our books for the evening were "The Taker" and "Freedom Writers." There's no natural segue, so I'm not sure how we moved to "Lucky" and street lit, but discussion of the latter became very heated. Is it important to get kids reading, no matter what the content? Or do we have a responsibility to put books in their hands that do more than reflect their own (profane and problematic) environment?

No consensus was reached.

Anyway, I am pleased that you shared your insightful comments about "Lucky," which I do intend to read. It's waiting for me once I finish--hey, an actual adult novel! I'm in the middle of Jodi Picoult's "Nineteen Minutes." (Of course, with its aftermath-of-a-school-shooting plot and its exploration of bullying, it has a lot in common with YA literature. So maybe I should qualify that "actual adult novel" label.)
Mar. 21st, 2007 03:29 pm (UTC)
No consensus was reached.
I'm not sure there will ever be a consensus, which is why parent involvement is so important. Though sometimes, I wonder about parents. One of the 7th grade LA teachers had a book talk assignment over the February break, and one girl did it on a Danielle Steele book. Her mom gave it to her.
I often grapple with maturity issues as I do selection and I feel guilty ordering some titles, but know they are far tamer than what they see on TV or even reading at time!
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )