After the exceptionally good YA novels Say What You Will and A Step Toward Falling, both featuring protagonists with physical and/or mental disabilities, Ms McGovern has now successfully turned her sights on middle graders, with the quiet and sweet Just My Luck, narrated by a character who has family members with these challenges
4th grader Benny Barrows has his own struggles with spelling, math and friendships, as well as coping with the demands of an autistic brother, and now his father has suffered a brain aneurysm, which Benny feels partially responsible for, and is still not his old self.
Benny is an observant and thoughtful kid, and seeing the world through his narration gives readers an opportunity to appreciate a life full of personal and family problems: “The one thing you’ve learned in fourth grade is that you’re bad at everything that comes easily to other people.” But Benny is as stoic as his mother who holds the family together financially and more importantly, emotionally: “You don’t think you could ever, in a million years, handle it, and then it happens and you do.”
Benny has a talent for making stop motion videos with his Lego minifigs, and he uses this as a way of expressing his feelings, as Yoda, for example, says “People you still are, though look different you do.” He is also inspired by Lynne Reid Banks’ The Indian in the Cupboard, and while Debbie Reese will doubtless not approve, it does at least come with a warning about negative stereotypes from Benny’s mom.
The plot culminates in a Barrows family carnival to raise money to pay some of the father’s medical bills, and they find that friends, neighbors, and classmates have been eager to pitch in and support the Barrows, but did not know how to do it. It seems a little unrealistic, however, to think that the $600 raised will do anything other than make a very small dent in the healthcare costs.
The author has used her experience working with mentally challenged kids to craft a modest book full of thoughtful wisdom, which will appeal to kids who have enjoyed Cynthia Lord’s Rules.