The Luck Uglies

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
The Luck Uglies Book Poster Image
Strong heroine faces monsters and mayhem in fun fantasy.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

The Luck Uglies is more adventure than education, but education is highly valued in the story: Riley and her friend Folly aren't legally allowed to learn to read, but their friend Quinn teaches them what he learns in school so they can all read a book that's crucial to the plot.

Positive Messages

Strong messages about courage, love of friends and family, loyalty, honor, kindness -- and knowing when to improvise instead of sticking to the plan.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Rye manages to break all of the O'Chanter House Rules by the time the story's over, though usually because things are out of her control. In the process, she learns House Rule No. 5: "If four fails and the bogs again crawl, don't break one, break them all" -- desperate times call for desperate measures. She and her friends don't always do what their parents tell them, and the story begins with their inadvertent theft of a book, but their intentions are good. Adult characters, including Mrs. O'Chanter, the mysterious Harmless, and Folly and Quinn's parents, are brave, clever, and loving. The blind boy Truitt proves a resourceful, courageous friend. Other kid and adult characters range from annoying to villainous, but the good guys stand in sharp contrast -- including the ones who've been labeled as villains in conventional wisdom.

Violence

Swordplay, combat with monsters, and encounters with heavily armed soldiers cause death and dismemberment among human, animal, and monster characters. Some characters are imprisoned in dungeons. The humans abuse a captured Bog Noblin, who's scary but just an infant, caging him, throwing rocks, and planning an elaborate killing. The wicked Earl and his henchmen  threaten to put hot tar on their prisoners' faces before sending them off to worse fates. The kids are often in grave danger and often rescued in the nick of time.

Sex

Rye's mother, with no husband in evidence and two children, insists on being called "Mrs. O'Chanter." Local law enforcement loves to annoy her by addressing her as "Miss." Rye suspects she and her sister Lottie, who looks very different, might have different fathers. Rye has a mild crush on Folly's older brother, Fifer.

Language

There's no present-day foul language, but there's some bathroom humor, as Lottie's potty training is making uncertain progress. A creature bites Quinn on the butt, and he bitterly tells Rye, "Your favors always seem to get me bitten, scratched, or pooped on." The author invents curses and expletives, e.g. "Pigshanks!" 

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Folly's parents own a disreputable tavern, where much of the action takes place; adult characters drink alcohol and sometimes give the kids a taste.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Luck Uglies, the first volume of a planned fantasy adventure series, introduces an intriguing world with appealing characters and a great heroine in young Rye. While in many ways it's a classic good-against-evil tale in a magical world, there's also a strong theme of disobeying authority (whether of parents or oppressive political regimes) when the situation calls for it. Parents may want to take the opportunity for age-appropriate discussion of when such a decision might be called for. Much of the action takes place in a disreputable tavern and other settings of drunken carousing; adult characters drink alcohol and sometimes give the kids a taste. Rye's never known her father and suspects her sister's father is someone else. The kids are often in peril. Swordplay, combat with monsters, and encounters with heavily armed soldiers cause death and dismemberment among human, animal, and monster characters. Some characters are imprisoned in dungeons. The wicked Earl and his henchmen threaten to put hot tar on their prisoners' faces before sending them off to worse fates. 

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What's the story?

Eleven-year-old Riley (Rye) O'Chanter lives with her mom and younger sister, Lottie, in Village Drowning, where the wicked Earl oppresses the people and forbids girls to learn to read. The monstrous Bog Noblins who previously ravaged the town have officially been wiped out, but based on recent events, the villagers aren't so sure. Also officially nonexistent: the mysterious folk known as THE LUCK UGLIES, who have little respect for the Earl but can deal with the Bog Noblins. As Rye and her friends cope with strange occurrences and try to keep their families safe, a newly arrived mysterious stranger and his secrets are about to change everything the kids know.

Is it any good?

Durham introduces very appealing characters in smart, independent Rye and her loyal friends -- as well as her family and some other intriguing adults. He also puts them in thought-provoking situations that are more ethically complex than stereotypical good vs. evil. Like many first volumes in fantasy series, THE LUCK UGLIES has to spend a fair amount of time establishing a world and its terminology, some of which is explained in a glossary.

The Luck Uglies is a satisfying adventure that will leave many readers eager for the sequel.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about fantasy adventure series. Why are they so popular with kids? What others have your read? Think you'll stick wit this series? Why or why not?

  • How do you tell the difference between good guys and bad guys? Is it always reliable to trust what other people say about them?

  • If your family pets were magical beings in disguise, what powers would they have?

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