Just My Luck

Book review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
Just My Luck Book Poster Image
Touching fourth-grade story of empathy and kindness.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Lots of facts and information about autism and living with someone on the spectrum. Lots of examples encourage empathy and kindness toward others, especially those with learning disabilities. Many fourth-grade book titles mentioned, and many plot points and themes from The Indian in the Cupboard highlighted. Stop-motion animation briefly explained. Brief definitions of some vocabulary, such as "aneurysm" and "insecure." An excerpt from a poem by Naomi Shihab Nye is analyzed at an age-appropriate level.

Positive Messages

When times are bad, think about someone else's problems and try to help them. We should show compassion and empathy in everyday situations by doing nice things for others. More important than grades or test results is working hard and finding things that you love. Bigger problems put smaller ones in perspective. Friendships or romances with people you have nothing in common with, and that make you act differently from who you really are, aren't worthwhile.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Benny is incredibly kind and empathetic. He's a good younger brother who helps his family, especially his older brother who's autistic and his father who's recovering from surgery. He has fears and insecurities and is not getting particularly good grades in school. But he pursues his passion for filmmaking and learns alternative methods for learning and remembering that will help his grades get better. He's surrounded by a strong, loving, and supportive family, with a caring teacher and staff at school, and he learns who his good friends really are.

Violence & Scariness

Benny experiences a lot of fear and worry when told that his father might not survive surgery. There's also some mild peril and fear when he lose tracks of his brother and searches for him all around the neighborhood.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Just My Luck, by Cammie McGovern (Say What You Will), has a lot to teach kids about kindness and empathy. Benny's older brother, George, is on the autism spectrum, so kids will learn a lot about autism and living with someone on the spectrum. It also teaches about friendship: how people can surprise you by being better, and sometimes worse, than you expect based on their appearance and abilities; and what kinds of friendships are worthwhile. It's chock-full of positive messages and role models, especially narrator Benny, who's in fourth grade. Benny experiences strong fear and worry about his father undergoing brain surgery and about losing track of George while walking the dog. Lots of age-appropriate book titles are mentioned, and many plot points and themes from The Indian in the Cupboard are given, including the brief mention that it perpetuates stereotypes.

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What's the story?

Fourth grade isn't starting out very well for Benny. His best friend moved away, he still can't ride his bike very well, his dad's in the hospital, and he's still having trouble with spelling and math. Even Mr. Norris, whom everyone says is the best teacher ever, is too distracted these days to be any fun. Benny tries to help others as a way of coping, but when his father has to have another operation, Benny thinks it's JUST MY LUCK to have so many problems. Can he and his family handle all the obstacles life throws at them?

Is it any good?

This thoughtful and thought-provoking story of a bumpy start to fourth grade will have kids rooting for likable, relatable Benny while they learn about kindness and friendship. Veteran author Cammie McGovern turns her talent for believable, authentic narrative voices away from high school and toward a younger but equally important developmental stage. Benny’s empathy and unfailing kindness make him a great role model, and he’s engaging enough that kids won’t notice that they’re learning right along with him how to cope when life throws you a curveball.

The well-developed cast of supporting characters will warm hearts as they show Benny about worthwhile friendships, strong family bonds, doing more than you think you can, and being much more than you think you are.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about autism. Do you know anyone who's on the spectrum? What did you learn about it that you didn't know before?

  • Lots of books are written about kids in fourth grade. Why do you think that is? What changes does Benny notice now that he's in fourth grade?

  • Benny didn't want to go home the day of his father's operation because he was afraid to hear bad news. Have you ever been afraid like that? How did you cope with your fear?

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