September 29, 2019

Just Lucky

Written by Melanie Florence
Second Story Press
248 pp.
Ages 13-18
September 2019

Though the beginning of her life was less than stable, born of a gambling-addicted mother (hence Lucky’s unusual first name) with a crack habit, much of Lucky Robinson’s fifteen years were spent in a loving home with her grandparents. But, when her grandmother’s dementia advances rapidly after Grandpa’s death, Lucky’s life takes a staggering turn that disconnects her from the support and security she's always known.

Though Lucky is aware that Grandma’s forgetfulness is becoming serious, she is unprepared for the fire Grandma accidentally starts. But at the hospital, the Children’s Aid Society is called to take responsibility for the underage Lucky as Grandma receives care. Sadly even a phone call to her ghost of a mother brings nothing except clarity that Lucky is well rid of a woman more concerned about her boyfriend and the proceeds from the potential sale of Lucky's grandparents' house. As such, Lucky begins the complex journey into the foster care system.

Her first foster placement is with the hyper-religious Mary and Robert Wilson and their teen son Bobby. Lucky tries to be accommodating, submitting to Mary’s requirements for chaste dress, the saying of grace before meals and homeschooling. But a threat within requires Lucky defend herself both with a knife and with the truth to those who refuse to acknowledge inappropriate behaviours by those entrusted with her care. The consequence is that child care worker Cynthia drags victimized Lucky to a second home.

With her new living accommodations with foster parents Sarah and Edward and teens Jake and Charlie, Lucky begins to feel a little luckier. Though home is more stable and welcoming, Lucky must contend with racism and bullying at school at the hands of Elyse who has her sights on Jake and sees his interest in Lucky as competition. Victimized again for being Indigenous, and for defending Charlie, a boy from the Dominican, Lucky is expelled, steering her to yet another foster family but also to the school she attended with best friend Ryan.

Though Lucky continues to hold onto the hope that she will be reunited with her grandmother who has both good and bad days, when Grandma is moved to a care facility, Lucky starts to wonder whether she has any luck at all and may ever again have a place of home where she will feel safe.

Melanie Florence who touched us with her award-winning picture books Stolen Words (Second Story Press, 2017) and Missing Nimâmâ (Clockwise Press, 2015) takes a simple germ of an idea–that of a child in foster care–and makes it in bigger story, as it should be. Entering foster care is a life-altering experience from which some children may or may not recover.  As in her earlier picture books about residential schools and missing and murdered Indigenous women, the story is simple but the message monumental. Not all lives are easy and picture perfect and Lucky's certainly is not. Not all foster homes are great or horrible.  Not all foster families are caring, though that is their mandate. Lucky's story evolves from a tragedy that snowballs into overwhelming disaster. Though I’m sure, as the saying goes, it could have been far worse, Lucky's story, which is one of trial and hardship, does end with some semblance of good fortune and contentedness, perhaps even hope for a happy ending.

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