Tuesday, June 09, 2009

The Ties That Bind: Lucky Breaks by Susan Patron

...A certain insight came to Lucky about Lincoln. He was reliable, calm, orderly, and on top of that, a boy. A boy who was going to leave the whole country. It wasn't entirely his whole fault, but standing as she was on the top of the mountain of ten, about to transform her 11 into a pair of skis and fly off in a blur of speed, what Lucky wanted was a girl best friend, an adventurous girl. And without even knowing that she'd been looking, now Lucky longed for that girl to be Paloma.

Lucky Trimble is on the brink--about to turn eleven--and now secure that her step-mother Brigitte, who is determinedly trying to become Americanized, is with her to stay, she begins to hope for something big to happen, for some life-changing intrepid adventure to come into her life. She is even discontent with her best friend Lincoln, so strong and steady, and so engrossed with his love for knot tying that he is working on an enormous creation with which he hopes to win an international prize and a year studying his passion abroad. Somehow, Lucky feels a bit betrayed by Lincoln's eagerness to leave Hard Pan to follow his obsession, a feeling with undertones of romantic jealousy which puzzles her.

And then, helping Brigitte serve luncheon at her Hard Pan Cafe to a group of desert geologists, Lucky meets a girl, a girl with whom she immediately shares secret smiles, stifled giggles, and rolls of the eyes. Paloma is the niece of one of the "ologists," and she and Lucky form a bond so immediate that the two begin to scheme to get permission for Paloma to spend the weekend of her birthday party in Hard Pan. An over-protected child of well-to-do parents, Paloma longs for the freedom and warmth she sees in Lucky's life, and with after some lengthy telephone conversations with Brigitte about the dangers of tarantulas, snakes, and wild burros in the desert, Paloma's mother consents to the sleepover.

Waiting for the next weekend to come, Lucky is both anxious and happy, but when she sees that Lincoln, too, is intrigued with Paloma, she impulsively and secretly makes three dire cuts in his knotting project, the one with which he hopes to win the prize. Lucky regrets the action almost immediately, but strangely enough, Lincoln methodically comes up with esoteric knots which mend the cuts decoratively, but although he seems to suspect her part in the sabotage, says nothing directly to her.

Then, on the morning of the big party, Lucky talks Paloma into an intrepid adventure, one with more than a little danger, a visit to an abandoned well once involved in a local murder. Once there, Paloma declines to descend the rickety-looking ladder into the deep, dark well shaft, but Lucky has come too far to turn back and with a bit of bravura starts the trip down. Near the bottom, however, the last rung of the ladder shatters, and Lucky, unable to reach the next rung to climb out and aware that the city-bred Paloma has not even a inkling of which way to go to find help, realizes that she has brought about her own downfall. Ironically and almost inevitably, however, the broken ladder turns out to be the lucky break which changes her friendship with Lincoln and Paloma as well.

The reading of the sequel to an award-winning novel always begins with a bit of trepidation. Will the author recreate the spark of creativity which made the first book hard to put down? Will the characters grow and develop while remaining true to themselves? Will the theme of the first book be extended and deepened? All the hopes of the reader/reviewer temporarily hang in the balance as the story begins to play itself out.

Lucky Breaks, Susan Patron's sequel to the 2007 Newbery Award winner, The Higher Power of Lucky (reviewed February 18, 2007), here) does not disappoint. At first leisurely and character-driven, rich in local color and insight into its unusual heroine, the plot nonetheless moves relentlessly toward an exciting climax which ties together the elements of the novel--characters, conflict, and theme--into a whole. Again, as in the first novel, Lincoln is a central element. In fact, an argument could be made that Lincoln is the key character, or at least a main character along with Lucky. It is his calm intelligence, his studious survival skills, and his devoted friendship that literally and figuratively pull Lucky out of her hole--in a way that reminds Lucky that the ties that bind her with her old Hard Pan friends and her new best friend are what really matter.

A deeply felt, genuinely funny, and honest novel for middle readers, male and female, (and, English teachers take note, one with a deeply symbolic double entendre of a title), Lucky Breaks (Simon & Schuster, 2009) does Susan Patron proud. A third book in this trilogy is promised for next year.

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