The Higher Power of Lucky

11May10

The Higher Power of Lucky

By Susan Patron
Illustrated by Matthew Phelan

This is the story of a ten-year old girl named Lucky Trimble, who is living in a very small town called Hard Pan in California. Lucky’s life has been anything but lucky: her father left when she was little, and her mother died after being electrocuted during a storm when she was eight. In an odd request, Lucky’s father asks his ex-wife named Brigitte to come take care of Lucky. Brigitte leaves her life in France to come care for Lucky, leaving Lucky in constant worry that Brigitte will up and leave at anytime to return to the life she left in France.

The story follows Lucky as she struggles through her life in this small town feeling like a burden to Brigitte and a little bit jaded by the unfortunate events that have happened to her. Luck carries around a “well-equipped survival kit at all times” and is highly aware of the importance of watching out for “danger signs” in anticipation of the “strange and terrible and good and bad things that happen when you least expect them to.”

Patron’s most effective characterizations of Lucky are the times when she let us inside of Lucky’s thoughts. The following passage reveals Lucky’s thoughts about snakes:

  • “Privately, Lucky admired snakes because they were very, very highly adapted to their habitat. One amazing true fact she had read was that snakes actually started out as creatures with legs but evolved to not having legs because they could move around better without him. In fact, Lucky figured the average person went around thinking, Those poor snakes sure have been waiting a long time to evolve some legs. She would never have guessed not having legs would be better having them.” ( 51)

Even though Lucky is thinking about snakes, this idea of needing legs is thematically related to not needing a father who wouldn’t care about you if he were. These types of subtle undertones create a sophisticated story, and explain the 2007 recognition The Higher Power of Lucky received with the Newbery Medal.

In the end, Brigitte isn’t trying to leave Lucky at all, but rather officially adopt her. Considering that Brigitte and Lucky’s father divorced because he didn’t want children, Brigette’s adoption of Lucky doesn’t seem that far of base. Brigette wanted a child, and Lucky so desperately needs a secure guardian.

As we discussed one day in our class, on the very first page of this story, the use of the word “scrotum” stirred quite the controversy. Scrotum, although referring to an male’s anatomy, is not a bad word. Lucky overhears this word while she is eavesdropping on the town’s AA meeting.  In context, it appears as follows: “…then falling out of the car when he saw a rattlesnake on the passenger seat biting his dog, Roy, on the scrotum.”

After reading the book, I agree with those who advocated Patron’s use of the word. While some believe Patron included this word just for shock value (which she very well might have), it does serve a purpose in helping to characterize Lucky’s as a curious, bored little girl who desperately is attempting to make sense of adult’s and their world. I think many children would not even bat an eye at this word because they probably aren’t familiar with it. Thus, Patron places her reader in the same situation as Lucky. Patron describes Lucky’s reaction to hearing this foreign word: “Scrotum sounded to Lucky like something green that comes up when you have the flu and cough too much. It sounded medical and secret, but also important.”

The following video shows support for Patron’s use of the word “scrotum” and an interview with Patron herself about the book.  I thought it was an interesting point that Patron received feedback that from students who felt “…if The Higher Power of Lucky is banned by any libraries, the dictionary should be banned as well.”

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