written by Cynthia Kadohata
illustrated by Julia Kuo
Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2013
There is bad luck, good luck, and making your own luck—which is exactly what Summer must do to save her family in this novel from Newbery Medalist Cynthia Kadohata.
Summer knows that kouun means “good luck” in Japanese, and this year her family has none of it. Just when she thinks nothing else can possibly go wrong, an emergency whisks her parents away to Japan—right before harvest season. Summer and her little brother, Jaz, are left in the care of their grandparents, who come out of retirement in order to harvest wheat and help pay the bills.
The thing about Obaachan and Jiichan is that they are old-fashioned and demanding, and between helping Obaachan cook for the workers, covering for her when her back pain worsens, and worrying about her lonely little brother, Summer just barely has time to notice the attentions of their boss’s cute son. But notice she does, and what begins as a welcome distraction from the hard work soon turns into a mess of its own.
Having thoroughly disappointed her grandmother, Summer figures the bad luck must be finished—but then it gets worse. And when that happens, Summer has to figure out how to change it herself, even if it means further displeasing Obaachan. Because it might be the only way to save her family.
I don’t know much about farming and the harvest so I really enjoyed this different setting and situation. I also liked the details about farming and how combine harvesters work (something I’ve never thought much about before). But this novel was about so much more than farming—family, bullying and peer pressure, taking chances and learning about the world. It’s a quieter, slower paced novel but I liked the quirkiness of it and how Summer worked out her family relationships.
As a writer, I was impressed by the way the author created a strong sense of setting and was able to keep the story moving along and hold my interest, even though “combines” seem like potentially boring subject matter for a novel. I’d study this novel again to see how the author was able to get inside the main characters thoughts so effectively.
“Kouun is “good luck” in Japanese, and one year my family had none of it.”
“A quilt was one of the two things I had always wanted. The other thing was a wicker chair for the front porch.”
“The combines were still churning away, the sound growing louder as they moved nearer, their lights shifting in tandem.”
“That’s kind of the way I felt right then, like everything that was real—the black sky and the stars and the wheat—all started to kind of melt into one another, and the only thing that seemed clear was me and a dog.”
Cynthia Kadohata lives in the Los Angeles area and loves to travel.
A Million Shades of Gray
For more info, visit Cynthia Kadohata’swebsite.
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