Monday, September 28, 2009

Lucky is as lucky does ...

Lucky Trimble is growing up and quite frankly, it's not very pretty. She is about to turn 11 -- a number to which she attributes great significance -- and her bossiness and tendency to show off have become more than a little trying to all who know her. At the end of her first novel, The Higher Power of Lucky, Lucky learns that her adopted mother Brigitte wants and loves her and that she's got a secure place in the small world of Hard Pan, California. So in Lucky Breaks, author Susan Patron has Lucky repeatedly testing that love -- by destroying the knotted creation of her best friend Lincoln, by belittling her new best friend's appropriate caution about an abandoned well, and by lying to all and sundry in that quirky little community.

Still, she's Lucky Trimble and we love her. Her insatiable curiosity and stubbornness are a very appealing combination. Lucky meets Paloma, the niece of one of the -ologists that are out exploring the Mojave Desert near Hard Pan, and instantly feels a connection to her -- particularly because she shares her name with that of a heroine of a story of a love gone wrong that Lucky has recently heard from Short Sammy (owner of the dog with the scrotum problem).

But Lucky is also on the lookout for a best friend because she's not so sure about her current best friend, Lincoln. Lincoln is getting more and more obsessed with knot-tying -- so much so that he might leave Hard Pan altogether to go to school in England. And, of course, he's not paying sufficient attention to Lucky. So, Lucky encourages Paloma to come visit her the next weekend (some hilarity ensues courtesy of Paloma's overprotective Hollywood-esque parents) -- Lucky's birthday weekend -- when they will search for the jewel missing from the other Paloma's broach. When this adventure lands both Paloma and Lucky in some serious trouble, Lucky's not grateful for her rescue. In fact, she seems like a garden-variety adolescent -- she knows that she's behaving badly, but she can't help herself. It's quite endearing.

The narrator is Cassandra Campbell, who I don't believe I've ever heard read before. She does a very good job here -- there are a lot of characters here that she subtly, but distinctly creates. The four children -- Lucky, Lincoln, Paloma, and the only other child in Hard Pan, six-year-old savant Miles -- are endearingly rendered, the personality of each is embodied in Campbell's voice and delivery. I really enjoyed Lucky's petulant fury and Lincoln's reasoning calm as he brings her up from the bottom of that abandoned well.

Campbell has a youthful sounding voice, and there is no doubt that this story is from Lucky's point of view. But, she also brings a bit of adult sensibility to her reading. Perhaps I'm overanalyzing, but I hear in her voice a calm sense of security that adults provide in this kind of children's literature (the kind where adults aren't absent, idiots, fools, or evil incarnate). It lets me know (and, more importantly, listening children) that Lucky is going to get out of her (many)predicaments. I think that Patron's frequent use of sophisticated language and imagery may contribute to this comforting adult feel as well, and Campbell reads the novel with such surety and confidence. Hand-in-hand with these feelings are skilled portrayals of the adults in the story -- particularly Paloma's mother and the Americanizing Frenchwoman, Brigitte.

Campbell interviews Susan Patron at the conclusion of the audiobook and the interview had an almost spontaneous quality (not quite). Patron has got some good stories and seems confident talking about herself. Shortly after Lucky Breaks was published, Susan Patron visited my library, so most of her stories were familiar to me. Still, it's nice for those who won't have a chance to meet her in person to hear from her in this format.

At the beginning of the audiobook, Patron also reads her acknowledgment, "To RĂ©ne," [apologies if the accent is in the wrong place] with appropriate French inflection. It's kind of odd -- a sudden shift after you hear the narrator's voice read the credits and it's finished before you have the chance to reflect on the fact that it's a different voice sounding French! But it was touching that she wanted to read it.

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