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The Thing About Luck

The Thing About Luck

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The Thing About Luck

4/5 (49 évaluations)
189 pages
3 heures
Jun 4, 2013

Note de l'éditeur

Asian Pacific American Heritage Month…

A look at rural living from Newbery Medalist Cynthia Kadohata. Summer has only bad luck one year when she almost dies of malaria and she has to live with her grandparents while her mom and dad are called back to Japan to take care of other elderly relatives. She holds out hope that her luck will change and chronicles a series of misadventures and misfortunes in her journal.


There is bad luck, good luck, and making your own luck—which is exactly what Summer must do to save her family in this winner of the National Book Award by Newbery Medalist Cynthia Kadohata.

Summer knows that kouun means “good luck” in Japanese, and this year her family has none of it. Just when she thinks nothing else can possibly go wrong, an emergency whisks her parents away to Japan—right before harvest season. Summer and her little brother, Jaz, are left in the care of their grandparents, who come out of retirement in order to harvest wheat and help pay the bills.

The thing about Obaachan and Jiichan is that they are old-fashioned and demanding, and between helping Obaachan cook for the workers, covering for her when her back pain worsens, and worrying about her lonely little brother, Summer just barely has time to notice the attentions of their boss’s cute son. But notice she does, and what begins as a welcome distraction from the hard work soon turns into a mess of its own.

Having thoroughly disappointed her grandmother, Summer figures the bad luck must be finished—but then it gets worse. And when that happens, Summer has to figure out how to change it herself, even if it means further displeasing Obaachan. Because it might be the only way to save her family.

Cynthia Kadohata’s ode to the breadbasket of America has received six starred reviews and won the National Book Award.
Jun 4, 2013

À propos de l'auteur

Cynthia Kadohata has been writing since 1982. When she was twenty-five and completely directionless, she took a Greyhound bus trip up the West Coast, and then down through the South and Southwest. She met people she never would have met otherwise. It was during that bus trip, which lasted a month, that she rediscovered in the landscape the magic she’d known as a child. Though she had never considered writing fiction before, the next year she decided to begin. She sent one story out every month, and about forty‑eight stories later, the New Yorker took one. She now lives in California. Kadohata’s first novel, The Floating World, was a New York Times Notable Book of the year. Her first children’s novel, Kita‑Kira, won the 2005 Newbery Medal. Kadohata’s website is Kira‑Kira.us.

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  • If I grew up beautiful, I would never break any man’s heart, and if I grew up plain, nobody would break my heart. If I rebelled and wanted love, however, all bets were off. Broken hearts would come my way like locusts.

  • What I felt surprised about was how beautiful hard work looked—the combines moving slowly in tandem, the moon hanging over the field. It was wabi-sabi.

  • And, it was hard to explain, but there was something about him that kind of repelled everyone. It was something about the way he moved, not in smooth, normal strokes like most peo-ple, but rather kind of jerky, as if he were part robot.

  • Personally, I loved bottled water. It made me feel extravagant and grown-up. When I grew up, I would keep bottles of water in my house at all times. I would have three dogs. My husband would love bottled water and dogs and me.

  • But Jiichan suspected Jaz was more vulnerable, because having a friend made him so happy that he would start to see the world the way the friend told him to if that was the best way to keep this friend.

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The Thing About Luck - Cynthia Kadohata



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, pointing her bony finger. We got seven flat tires in six weeks. I got malaria, one of fifteen hundred cases in the United States that year. And my grandmother’s spine started causing her excruciating pain.

Furthermore, random bad smells emanated from we knew not where. And my brother, Jaz, became cursed with invisibility. Nobody noticed him except us. His best friend had moved away, and he did not know a single boy to hang around with. Even our cousins looked the other way when they saw him at our annual Christmas party. They didn’t even seem to be snubbing my brother; they just didn’t see him.

The thing about luck is that it’s like a fever. You can take fever meds and lie in bed and drink chicken broth and sleep seventeen hours in a row, but basically your fever will break when it wants to break.

In early April my parents got a call from Japan. Three elderly relatives were getting ready to die and wanted my parents to take care of them in their last weeks and months. There was nothing surprising about this. This was just the way our year was going. It was April 25 when my grandparents and Jaz delivered my parents to the airport to catch their plane to Japan. I stayed at home because the type of malaria I’d gotten was called airport malaria. Airport malaria is when a rogue mosquito from, say, Africa has been inadvertently carried into the United States on a jet. This infected mosquito might bite you. I got bit in Florida last summer, and I lived in Kansas. The chances that I would get malaria from going to the airport in Kansas were remote, but I’d grown so scared of mosquitoes that sometimes I didn’t even like stepping outside. It really wasn’t fair—I was only twelve, and yet already I was scared of the entire outside world.

During the 1940s there were thousands of malaria cases in the United States. Then in the fifties the experts thought malaria here was eradicated. But every so often, someone still caught it. Sometimes you would get your picture in the newspaper. My picture was even in Time magazine!

Obaachan and Jiichan, my grandmother and grandfather on my mother’s side, were both sixty-seven and lived with us in Littlefield, Kansas. Obaachan was more formal than Baachan, but it was what she wanted Jaz and me to call her.

When harvest season arrived in May of our horrible year, Jiichan planned to come out of retirement to work as a combine driver for a custom harvesting company called Parker Harvesting, Inc. (I’ll explain about custom harvesting in a minute or two.) My grandmother would work as a cook for the same harvester, with me as her helper.

We’d all worked for the Parkers before. But it was the first time my parents wouldn’t be there, which meant only my grandparents would be paying the mortgage during harvest this year. I didn’t quite understand what paying the mortgage meant, but apparently, it was a constant struggle. Another phrase that came up a lot was paying down the principal, as in, If we could just pay down the principal, I’d feel like we were getting somewhere. I used to think that paying down the principal meant they wanted to bribe the principal at one of my future schools, like they would give this principal some money, and then someday the principal would let me into high school despite my iffy grades.

Anyway. As soon as my grandparents got home from dropping off my parents, changes were implemented. My mother had told Jaz, Don’t worry. You’ll make a friend when you least expect it. My grandparents were more proactive. It seems Obaachan and Jiichan had a bright idea they’d been hiding from us.

Obaachan made Jaz and me sit on the floor in front of the coffee table while she and Jiichan sat on the couch. We having meeting-party, she announced regally. We invite boys we will consider for friendship with Jaz. She turned to me. Make list with him. I no interfere.

A list of people to invite? I asked. My Doberman, Thunder, tried to push himself between me and the table. I pushed back, and we just sat there, leaning hard into each other.

No! A list! she snapped at me.

Wasn’t that what I had just said? I finally got up and moved to a different side of the table. Still unsure what she wanted, I got a pen and paper.

Pencil! You may need to erase.

I got a pencil and readied myself. Should I number the list? I asked.

My grandfather nodded sagely. Agenda, he said. List for boys we invite, agenda for party.

No interfere! Obaachan said to Jiichan.

You interfere first!


Obaachan and Jiichan had been married for forty-nine years, and my mother always said that after that number of years, you no longer had to be polite all the time. It sometimes seemed that in our house, I was the only one who had to use my manners. Jaz didn’t have to because he had issues. When I’m sixty-seven, in fifty-five years, I supposed that I would finally be able to dispense with my manners.

I thought Jiichan and Obaachan talked to each other the way that they did because they’d had an arranged marriage. Obaachan said that if I had an arranged marriage, I would never give or receive a broken heart. If I grew up beautiful, I would never break any man’s heart, and if I grew up plain, nobody would break my heart. If I rebelled and wanted love, however, all bets were off. Broken hearts would come my way like locusts.

Summer! You in rah-rah land. She never said la-la land, and I never corrected her.

I hurriedly wrote Number one on the paper in the left-hand margin.

No number, Obaachan said. Arrange by time. I have to tell you everything?

Jiichan picked up the paper, studied the Number one, and set the paper back down. I agree. Arrange by time.

I erased the Number one and wrote in One o’clock p.m. I made sure not to flick the eraser bits onto the floor, because if I did, Obaachan would be so upset that she might fall over dead.

Noon! barked Obaachan. I made the change. Continue. First write day on top of paper in big letter. Day for meeting is next Saturday. Then continue.

What would you like to do at noon? I asked Jaz.

Play with LEGOs. I want a LEGO party.

Not really party, Jiichan said. He was cleaning his teeth with the floss he always carried in his shirt pocket. Sometimes he flossed during dinner, right at the table. See what I mean about manners? Can you imagine what your parents would do if you started to floss at the dinner table? But he constantly seemed to have something between his teeth. More of meeting than party, he said.

Noon lunchtime, Obaachan said. You feed boys first. Boys always hungry. Never mind. I no interfere. But no food, no friend. What I just say?

No food, no friend, Jaz and I repeated. Obaachan sometimes made us repeat something she had just said, to prove we were listening.

Jaz turned to Obaachan. Obaachan, will you make sandwiches?

Summer make. I her mentor.

I found myself already starting to feel stressed. What if I made ham sandwiches and the boys wanted tuna fish? What if I used regular bread and one of the boys needed gluten-free, like my friend Alyssa had to eat because of her allergies? What if I used too much mayonnaise? Arghhh!

Still, next to Noon I wrote Sandwich eating.

Jiichan pounded on the paper. Lunch! he cried out passionately. Not ‘sandwich eating’! It called ‘lunch’! He clutched at his heart. You kids go to kill me. Apparently, about once every couple of weeks, he thought we were going to kill him.

What kind of sandwiches would you like? I asked Jaz, still worrying about those. I don’t want to make the wrong kind.

I’ll ask around at school. I can’t believe this is happening. I’m really going to have a meeting-party. He got up to look at himself in a mirror over our fake fireplace and said, You are going to have a meeting-party.

Jiichan was now standing and staggering away from us with his hands on his heart. Jaz and I watched him calmly. I die, scatter ashes, Jiichan said. No keep in hole in wall at cemetery. You hear me?

Yes, Jiichan, we said.

Good. Then I die happy.

I wrote down LEGOs, one o’clock. My brother had approximately one thousand dollars’ worth of LEGOs. Seriously. I counted once. LEGOs were one of our biggest expenses and the only thing we splurged on.

Good plan! Jiichan said. That brilliant! I couldn’t tell if he was being sarcastic as he peered over my shoulder from his death throes.

How long is the meeting-party? Jaz asked.

I think most parties are two hours, I answered. So I guess that’s the end of the agenda? Nobody answered, so I made a line underneath the agenda and laid down the pencil.

Who should I invite? Jaz asked. Should it be just kids who I think might come, or should it be kids who might not come but on the other hand you never know? Should it be just kids in my class, or should it be all the kids in my grade? Should it be boys and girls or just boys? Should it be only kids who might not even know who I am even though I know who they are? Should it—

Jiichan held up his palm to quiet Jaz. Invite whole fifth grade, he said wisely. We all looked at him, and he nodded. That way hurt nobody’s feelings.

Jaz stared at him doubtfully for a moment, but then his face turned from doubtful to ecstatic. I could almost hear him thinking, Wow, the whole school might come to my meeting-party!

Then my grandparents wanted Jaz to draw invitations. He was a good artist in kind of a weird way. Like, he never drew pictures of anything recognizable, but if you needed a totally psychedelic design, he was your man. But he wanted to buy invitations because he thought they were more official. We ended up driving thirty miles to a 99-cent store in a larger town. After loud and passionate debate, we bought several boxes of dinosaur invitations. On Monday, Jaz distributed them to all the kids in the fifth grade at his school.

So as not to jinx the party, we weren’t supposed to talk to one another about it. But we could pray all we wanted, in front of several sprigs of silk cherry blossoms on the coffee table. We did this the night before the party. Cherry blossoms, as the harbingers of spring, were important to Japanese farmers. My grandmother mumbled in Japanese as I knelt beside her. I could make out a word occasionally—like unmei for destiny.

As Obaachan muttered on, I prayed in my head: Please let my brother have a successful meeting-party. Let the kids have fun, let him make at least one friend, preferably two. Please, please, please.

That night I drew in my notebook like I always did. I didn’t draw very well, so each picture took me weeks. I copied them from photographs of mosquitoes I found.

One time I thought I had a perfect drawing, so I sent it to a mosquito expert, and this is what he said: Looks like an Anopheles, but the proboscis is ‘hairy’ and the palps look like a thin line, so this is not a good representation, but could easily be changed (make palps more than a line and get rid of bristle on mouthparts and you have an Anopheles female). The problem is that most (but not all) Anopheles in the U.S. tend to have spots on their wings, which these drawings lack. Wow, epic fail on my part!

It was strange because I knew that if I had almost been killed by a car, I wouldn’t have become fascinated with cars. If I had almost drowned, I wouldn’t have become obsessed with water. But the more I looked at mosquitoes, even the same type that had infected me, the more delicate they seemed. Fragile, even. And yet one had almost taken my life. It was like now we couldn’t be separated. I mean, if I saw one on my arm, I wouldn’t hesitate to smash it or even run screaming down the highway. They terrified me. But still, we were inseparable.


Three boys from Jaz’s class had said they could come to the party. Nobody else had RSVP’d. But it didn’t matter. Three boys! We were so, so excited. At eleven on Saturday morning my friend Melody came over in case we needed help.

What should I do? Mel asked Obaachan.

Vacuum living room.

Obaachan, I said, she’s a guest.

She here to work.

I shook my head at Mel to let her know she didn’t have to vacuum. But we couldn’t have a for-real conversation with Obaachan and Jiichan listening. So we just talked about the coming harvest.

Let me finally explain about custom harvesters. Many wheat farmers don’t cut their own wheat. They bring in custom harvesters like the Parkers, who hire independent contractors like my family to drive the giant combines that cut the wheat. They also hire drivers of big rigs to haul the wheat to grain elevators. Grain elevators are usually tall reinforced-concrete buildings that you may have seen but never really thought about. The elevators are where the grain is stored.

The custom harvesters are the ones who own or lease the really, really expensive equipment. They’re usually family-owned companies. A new combine can cost $350,000, so you need to have really good credit to get a loan from the bank to buy or lease your equipment. Shoot, our house cost a quarter of that. During the harvest season these companies travel from farm to farm, from Texas to Montana or North Dakota, and even up to Canada for some harvesters.

Anyway, enough about custom harvesters (for now). I made two chicken-breast sandwiches, and Mel made two. Every so often, I slipped Thunder a piece of chicken, so he sat his best sit as I cut the sandwiches in half and inserted toothpicks topped with colored

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49 évaluations / 17 Avis
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Avis des lecteurs

  • (5/5)
  • (4/5)
    Kadohata captures the voice of a young teenage girl well, including her complicated relationships with her grandmother and little brother. At times, the details of harvest may drag on a bit too long for the average reader, but also reflects how a teen who grew up in a harvesting family may view the world. Ultimately this book has a nice message about the value of hard work and a respect for farming labor.
  • (2/5)
    I only read the beginning and I didn't like it.
  • (5/5)
    Merci beaucoup pour votre livre
  • (3/5)
  • (4/5)
    This was a story that actually grew on me the more I read it. The 12 year old narrator's voice was, perhaps, too realistic for me.
  • (3/5)
    ricky ijh.
  • (3/5)
  • (2/5)
  • (5/5)
    I like this
  • (2/5)
    Meh. I'm not terribly impressed with this one.
  • (5/5)
    Another gem from Cynthia Kadohata. Highly recommended coming-of-age novel. Beautiful cover, exquisite writing, authentic character development, heart-tugger.
  • (3/5)
    Mentioned as a possible Newbery winner, and because the author's Kira-Kira is one of my favorite Newbery medal winning books, this was high on the list of those to be read. While not as strong in plot as Kira-Kira, the writing is clear, and the characters are well developed. Life is difficult for Summer's family. It is a year of bad luck that continues to roll along, as heavy and strong as the 30,000 pound combines used to harvest wheat. Typically Summer's mother and father would travel throughout the mid west during harvest time, with father behind the wheel of the massive machine, and mother cooking for all the men who band together with the Parker family who own the equipment. When mother and father are called to Japan to assist family members who are gravely ill, it is Jiichan (grandfather) and Obaachan (grandmother) who must fill perform the harvest duties so the mortgage can be paid. Traveling with Jiichan and Obaachan, Summer assists her grandmother in cooking for the twelve crew men. Her younger brother Jaz and trusty dog Thunder travel from job - job with family members.Slow to praise and quick to disapprove, Obaachan is never ending in her criticism of Summer. When Obaachan's back increasingly becomes more and more painful, Summer quickly learns how to clean and cook for the crew. The 16 hour days prove too much for Jiichan and keeping up with the younger men proves impossible.When the son of the Parker's makes overtures of interest, Summer is smitten. Summer learns a stinging lesson of the pain of classism at the hands of Robert.Added to all other difficult tasks, attempting to understand her severely obsessive compulsive brother is frustrating. It is the relationship with Jaz that shines through in this book, as Summer learns that his unique look at the world isn't wrong, it is simply different in wondrous ways.
  • (4/5)
    Summer's parents and grandparents are wheat harvesters -- during harvest season, they travel across the Midwest with a crew of combine operators. This year, Summer's parents have been called back to Japan for a family emergency, so she and her younger brother Jaz will travel with their grandparents. Harvest time usually means a lot of boredom for children of harvesters, but Summer knows this season will be different. She will be helping Obaachan (Grandmother) prepare the food for the work crew, keeping an eye on Jaz and hopefully helping him figure out how to make a friend along the way, and maybe spending some time with Robbie, a boy just a little older than Summer. But when Jiichan (Grandfather) falls ill at a critical point during a harvesting job, Summer faces more challenges than she had initially expected.This is is one of those books that is so strong in one aspect -- in this case, characterization -- that it makes up for some of the shortcomings elsewhere. Summer, Jaz, and her grandparents are so vividly written, their relationships so pitch-perfect and their dialogue so true, that it makes up for the fact that the plot is pretty slim in this novel. Those looking for a read with a lot of excitement and adventure will not find it here. There's a lot of information about combines and wheat, and I think that some readers will be put off by this (see Moby Dick and the detailed information about whaling for comparison). However, I still think it's one of the strongest children's books I've read this year, and readers with the patience for it will find it an extremely rewarding read.
  • (5/5)
    As with other books, Kadohata is able to bring some deep thinking to a story aimed at upper elementary students. Who would think that the book A SEPARATE PEACE would be a part of the story. I left wanting to know more about Summer and her Japanese grandparents. Grandma was quite the character. Grandpa and his nightly stories often left me with much to think about. Kadohata is a person who can write for kids but adults can pull deeper meanings when reading. Betsy Bird on her Fuse8 SLJ blog suggests this book has potential for a Newbery Award and I agree.
  • (4/5)
    Summer’s Japanese American family doesn't seem to have luck. She has had malaria; her little brother, Jaz, shows symptoms of asperger syndrome is depressed about not having any friends; her parents have to fly to Japan to take care of elderly relatives; and her grandmother (Obaa-chan) and grandfather (Jii-chan) must pay the mortgage by coming out of retirement to work for a custom harvesting company. When the siblings accompany their grandparents on the harvest, Summer helps her grandmother cook for the workers and their employer's family. Soon granpa Jii-chan becomes sick, putting the family's finances in more jeopardy. I really enjoyed this book. It provides a glimpse into the lives of farmers; those who grow and reap the ingredients use to make our food. A good realistic fiction with a strong female character.
  • (4/5)
    This middle grade story takes place during the summer when 12-year-old Summer Miyamoto joins her 67-year-old grandmother and grandfather, Obaachan and Jiichan, to work the wheat harvest. Ordinarily it would be her parents who did this job, but they had to go back to Japan for a family emergency. Although her grandparents should be retired, the family needs the money. Jiichan is going to work as a combine driver for the Parker Harvesting work crew, while Obaachan, with the help of Summer, will cook the meals. Summer’s younger brother Jaz, who is probably somewhere on the autism spectrum (although Summer just thinks of him as “intense”), has no job to do. He ends up spending the days playing with LEGOs and wondering if he will ever get a friend.When something happens to Jiichan and he can’t complete the harvesting, Summer is afraid their year of bad luck is far from over.Discussion: This is a quiet story, but has a number of elements that make it memorable. During the break, Summer and Jaz are required to do schoolwork, and Summer is reading the book A Separate Peace by John Knowles. The plot follows 16-year-old Gene’s description of one year in his life, and what happened between him and his best friend Finny. Gene’s reflections on his fears, and on coming to terms with who he is, cause Summer to think about her own situation. In addition, Gene does something bad and finally confesses it. Summer does something not nearly as reprehensible, but it too requires that she take responsibility. And when Jiichan can’t finish the harvesting, Summer also has to confront her fears and sense of inadequacy, and do what it takes to make things right.Another theme of the story is the relationship between the kids and their grandparents, and especially between Summer and her grandmother. Obaachan and Jiichan clearly love the kids, but they are older, don’t speak perfect English, and display cultural differences on top of the generational ones. In particular, they seem to have inhibitions against expressing affection. To the reader (or perhaps older reader), it is clear they love each other and the kids, but Summer doesn’t always understand their words and actions in that way. It makes for a very touching and realistic story.Without being didactic, the author shows the cruelty of prejudice by the reactions of Summer. She is sensitive to societal discrimination against Asians, against class, and against kids who are different. She doesn’t act out her anger, however, but responds with tact and protectiveness. She also takes her Obaachan’s lessons to heart about trying to imbue her actions with thoughts love and forgiveness, because according to Obaachan, the results will be evident to all.Evaluation: This is a lovely, compelling story, with humor and heart and many subtle lessons, gently imparted.Note: The book features occasional illustrations by Julia Kuo.Note: This book was the 2013 National Book Award Winner for Young People's Literature