|Image from Kira-Kira.us|
The year Summer was 12 was not a good year for her family. In fact, it was a year full of bad luck. Her parents must fly to Japan to take care of elderly relatives, her temperamental younger brother Jaz can’t make any friends, and Summer has just recovered from an extremely rare case of malaria from a mosquito bite. But life doesn’t stop for luck, good or bad, and so Summer, Jaz and their grandparents, Obaachan and Jiichan, must fulfill the family’s contract to harvest wheat across the Midwest with a custom harvesting company. In a summer that includes a host of scary and thrilling firsts, Summer wonders, will her family’s luck ever change? Is luck something you can change? And if so, how can Summer make those changes happen without displeasing her irritable grandmother?
This unique coming of age story is told in first person from Summer’s perspective. The story unfolds quietly without fanfare. Summer’s comments on her family and life are humorous, but not in a laugh out loud sort of way. Instead they are more matter of fact, sprinkled with contemporary slang, and at times just a touch sarcastic. Kids will identify with her fear of mosquitos; Summer knows it’s ridiculous to be so scared and yet she can’t help herself. The short chapters of this character-driven story allow Kadohata to emphasis ideas and pose questions in a thoughtful manner. Kuo’s black and white illustrations, drawn from Summer’s point of view, provides context for readers unfamiliar with custom harvesting. The setting is a major element of the story and Kadohata brings the heat and humidity of a Midwest summer, as well as the challenges of harvesting wheat, to life in vivid detail. Summer’s family is Japanese-American (it seems she is part of the second or third generation born in America) and while Japanese words, customs, foods, and other cultural markers are woven into the narrative the multicultural aspect is not the focus of the story. Although it would be nice to have a glossary to define some of the Japanese terms, for the most part their meanings are inferred by the context.
The Luck of the Buttons by Anne Ylvisaker
Return to Sender by Julia Alvarez
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RECOMMENDED AGE/GRADE LEVEL
Age 9+ / Grade 4+