Danger, death, darkness, and drink are no strangers to Louis Bayard's YA debut, but at its heart it's a cheer-worthy, feel-good tale about family, determination, community, and defying stereotypes. Lucky Strikes is set in rural Virginia in 1934, and tobacco (including the brand the title is taken from), liquor, and crude language are plentiful. But 14-year-old Melia -- tough on the outside, often terrified inside, but never one to let it get the better of her because the stakes are too high -- is hard to resist. So is her narrative voice, as here when she's explaining her plan to Hiram:
"'Point is,' I said, 'I ain't old enough to be in charge of them two children. Which is the ... stupidest thing I ever heard, but that's the state of Virginia for you. So what I'm proposing is -- well, it's a business arrangement, that's all. Say some folks from the county come out here and they say, Whoa now, where be the father to these here children? Why, all you got to do is step up and say, That's me. I am the feller in question. Then these selfsame folks, they go away and leave us alone. It's a romp in the clover when you come right down to it.'
"'Oh, sure,' he said."