Life as a fourth grader is hard. Benny hadn't planned for it to be. First, his best friend Kenneth moved away, and he can't find a new best friend. Then there's Mr. Norris, his teacher. At the start of the year, he was great! Now, though, something is definitely wrong with Mr. Norris and all the fun is gone. Don't even ask him about the Footprint-for-good-deeds contest (he doesn't have any). But the thing that weighs most on Benny is his dad's health. Even though his mom says the aneurysm could have happened "at any time," Benny is convinced that his bike collision with is dad caused it. Now his dad behaves more like his brother George, who is autistic. None of that seems very lucky to Benny! When Benny and his older brother Martin discover that the medical bills are piling up, they decide to host a fund-raising carnival. When friends and neighbors turn out and help in unexpected ways, Benny learns just what real luck is.
To be honest, I struggled with this one. The story is well written and I love the realism of the characters and the family dynamics. Although the events are not typical of every family, Benny's emotions and his struggle to find/regain control of his life ARE typical. Benny is an exceptional narrator, and I love how the author focuses his (unseeing) eye on the positive around him: his relationship with his brothers and the boys' relationship with their mom, as well as Mr. Norris' wisdom and observations. I especially love the ways that Benny steps into George's shoes, not just to help George deal with the world, but also how he allows that to broaden his own view of things. There are several events where Benny consciously decides to emulate his autistic brother. That's a HUGE, positive takeaway.
That said, the story overall is a bit of a downer and seems to be collection of unhappy events, and not just for Benny. The last few chapters work to tie up a few loose ends with revelations and more positive events, but for me, some questions still lingered. Frankly, I thought the author waited too long to give Olga time on stage. There were glimpses of a friendship growing, but since "finding a new BFF" was something Benny talked about in the beginning of the book, it would have been nice to have built out that relationship more and given it a more deliberate, "vocal" ending.
Readers who love character-driven stories and realistic fiction will enjoy this book. It is worth the read. There are sad parts, and if you have a reader especially sensitive to "depressing" events, you may want to find something else to read.
Benny is the kid who sits next to you in math. Readers will recognize him (as well as Jeremy, Martin, Lisa, and Rayshawn) in themselves and/or their peers. We especially loved the positive representation not just of the Barrows family and George (who is autistic) but Benny's classmate Olga (who is legally blind) as well.
There is a rare curse word, but no F-bombs. Readers who are sensitive to other's emotions or are dealing with parental illness may find this hitting "too close to home"
Benny Barrows narrates this middle-grade novel about his family's life and his search for friends.
Just My Luck would be an interesting book to share in a middle-grade or upper-elementary book club. There is a lot of depth to Benny, and his story can open doors to talk about empathy, caring for others, and personal integrity, too. His relationship with Jeremy - especially at the end when he realizes that Jeremy may be trying to be "funny" v. mean - will be particularly relevant to this audience.
10 and Up
10 and Up
Borrow. Some readers will find a friend in Benny, others may find this depressing.