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The Thing About Luck



Migrant worker girl faces big responsibility in sweet story.

What parents need to know

Educational value

Readers will learn about the life of a modern day migrant farm worker from a kid's point of view. Narrator Summer describes in detail the work and machines needed to complete a wheat harvesting, as well as the long hours workers must endure to beat bad weather. Because of her bout with malaria earlier in the year, Summer has a morbid fascination with mosquitoes and includes facts about the disease and the insect. Also included are some Japanese words and some Irish slang, as well as Summer's notebook drawings that she does of both the farming processes and mosquitoes.

Positive messages

Standing by your family is important, even if it's not always easy to get along with them. Summer isn't sure she loves her grandmother, and though she knows she loves her brother, she doesn't always enjoy his company. In turn, Summer's grandmother seems constantly irritated by her husband and grandchildren. However, when it comes down to it, each member of the family helps, protects, and loves other family members in the best way he or she can.

Positive role models

Summer is not perfect, and she's well aware of it -- mostly because her grandmother is always pointing out her failings. Summer gets an incredible amount of responsibility placed on her at the age of 12: She must help her grandmother grocery shop and cook for the farmworkers, home-school herself, and watch over her difficult, moody (and probably autistic) brother. Though these seem to be thankless tasks, Summer understands that the work she helps with is essential to her family's survival, and she perseveres and tries to do the right thing. Since her near-death experience with malaria, she has become thoughtful and self-analytical. Despite her insecurities, when a boy betrays her trust, she realizes it's his loss more than hers.

Not applicable

One innocent first kiss.


Includes Irish putdown slang such as "gobshite" and "eejit."


Summer's brother is obsessed with Legos, and the family indulges him because building with the toys give him something to focus on. The boss' son plays Angry Birds.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking
Not applicable

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that The Thing About Luck, by Cynthia Kadohata, the Newbery-winning author of Kira-Kira, is a sweet family story about contemporary Japanese-American migrant workers. Because of her near-death experience with malaria, 12-year-old protagonist-narrator Summer thinks about death quite a bit, but she frames her thoughts in a positive light, focusing more on what she has than what she doesn't have.

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What's the story?

In Newbery-winning author Cynthia Kadohata's THE THING ABOUT LUCK, Japanese-American Summer is used to the life of a migrant worker: She gets out of school in May and doesn't return until late fall, after she helps her family with the harvest. During the harvest season when she's 12 years old, however, her parents have to go to Japan, so Summer and her "intense" brother (who appears to be autistic, although it's not stated) must accompany her grandparents on the harvesting trek. Summer's previous almost-fatal bout of malaria has made her deathly afraid of mosquitoes. Constantly covering herself in the insect repellent DEET, she has an acute awareness of the fragility of life. As she and her family work and travel with the other harvesters, she helps with the cooking, struggles to get along with her grandmother, gets her first crush on a boy, and refines her philosophy of life. When her grandfather falls ill and can't keep up with his harvesting duties, it is up to Summer to save the day.

Is it any good?


While The Thing About Luck isn't long on action, Summer's conversational, likable voice shines. The humor and warmth with which she tells her story will make readers root for her as she struggles with the challenges of taking on adult responsibilities and doing the right thing.

Summer's explanations of the farming world convey how important the harvest is to the farmers, the contract harvesters, and families like hers hired by the harvesters, though for some readers her descriptions may border on the tedious.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about migrant farmworkers. Who picks the fruit and harvests the vegetables on the farms in your area? Have you ever thought about what their lives are like? Does this book give you an idea? 

  • Summer's family doesn't own a computer, and although the boss' son gets to play Angry Birds when he's not helping with the machinery maintenance, Summer and her brother can't play video games. What would it be like for you to live without computer or video games? 

  • Summer's grandfather gives her an article to read about peer pressure that was written in 1955. Do you think peer pressure today is more or less of an issue than it was back then? Why?

Book details

Author:Cynthia Kadohata
Genre:Contemporary Fiction
Topics:Brothers and sisters, Bugs, Great girl role models
Book type:Fiction
Publication date:June 4, 2013
Number of pages:288
Publisher's recommended age(s):10 - 17
Available on:Nook, Hardback, iBooks, Kindle

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Teen, 16 years old Written bydaisy224751 May 3, 2016
What other families should know
Educational value
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