Happy Monday, guys!
Our MMGM pick for this week is Just My Luck by Cammie McGovern. We love this character study of a young fourth-grader looking to find his place in the world!
MMGM is a feature hosted by the fabulous Shannon Messenger on her blog every week!
Expected publication: February 23rd 2016 by HarperCollins
Format read: ARC via publisher
Just My Luck is a deeply moving and rewarding novel about a down-on-his-luck boy whose caring heart ultimately helps him find the strength to cope with tragedy and realize how much he truly has to offer his friends and family.
In Just My Luck, McGovern uses her first foray into middle-grade fiction to introduce readers to Benny, who is the quintessential youngest child. He’s younger brother to George, who is on the higher end of the autism spectrum, and to Martin, a high school student who is busy trying to figure out his own life.
Benny’s been struggling since their father suffered an aneurism over the summer, and is uncertain of just what this seeming spate of bad luck now means for him. He tries to work past it by being helpful and making his own good, but struggles when it feels like his efforts are going nowhere.
What I always like about McGovern’s books is that she never makes it a point to highlight and/or focus on specific themes in the stories that she tries to tell. Instead, all of her books feel like evolving studies about human nature, and how we grow throughout certain situations.
Benny begins the book by struggling with several big issues: the idea that he doesn’t necessarily warrant the same degree of attention that’s granted to George, their father or even Martin, and the idea that he may be responsible for his father’s accident.
McGovern perfectly captures that back-and-forth feeling of how such attention and recognition might feel like a big deal at this age - e.g. Benny is also upset that he doesn’t get recognition at school for being nice, when other classmates and George do - and the youthful inclination to not pursue such attention, because it would be rocking the boat.
But as the book progresses and Benny makes a few overt attempts toward receiving kudos for his kindness, McGovern turns that pursuit into a thoughtful study on how a young person is beginning to learn their personal strengths and weaknesses for the first time at this age. Through Benny’s interactions with secondary characters like Mr. Norris and Lisa, McGovern gently emphasizes the idea that some people's strengths are so innate, they don't necessarily need overt recognition or acknowledgement.
Benny's kindness is so deeply ingrained in him, it's now one of his greatest strengths. It’s that kindness that motivates Benny into helping those around him shine – e.g. a subplot involving recognizing the talents of a classmate named Olga - and it’s also that kindness that helps him learn that there are no magical solutions to his problems.
Instead, Benny uses his kindness as a way of connecting with others, including the friends, neighbors and family that help him work sensibly and proactively toward planning out for his father's medical recovery, and also uses that kindness to learn how to positively engage and forgive those who may not necessarily have his outlook on his world. It’s a subtle but important lesson, particularly for young readers who may have struggled before, because they haven't learned the strengths that lie in their own kindness and quite approaches toward the world.
Of special note: Like her previous books, McGovern doesn’t hold back when it comes to discussing the tougher sides of human nature. This includes some of the more negative reactions to George’s autism tendencies, and specific details on how genuinely upsetting Mr. Barrow’s post-aneurism conditions can be.
While McGovern handles these moments with a sincerity and a practicality that helps readers comprehend the serious nature of the issues at hand, I suspect that more than one younger reader will likely have questions – I know I would have. It’s potentially a great jumping off point for further discussion.
Benny begins the book frequently comparing his weaknesses and faults to those around him, only to eventually realize that he is in fact, stronger than most. His resilience and kindness are all traits that may not be overt or stand out, but have long-lasting impacts that are felt by many.
McGovern has written a quiet, lovely book that will resonate with many, but particularly with younger readers who may have wondered about their own place in the world. Highly recommend for all readers.
About the author:
Cammie McGovern is the author of Say What You Will and A Step Toward Falling. This is her first novel for younger readers. Cammie is also one of the founders of Whole Children, a resource center that runs after-school classes and programs for children with special needs. She lives in Amherst, MA, with her husband and three children.