The Operation Awesome theme for the #atozchallenge 2021 is book reviews (even though we're a blog about the publication journey, not a book review blog-- the team loves to read!). I've selected books by Debut Authors that I've interviewed on this blog.
Yes, this is the second week in a row that I'm reviewing a children's book with a main character who has a dead parent.
Summer of L.U.C.K. by Laura Segal Stegman(See the interview: https://operationawesome6.blogspot.com/2020/08/operation-awesome-20questions-in-2020_26.html)
In some ways, I enjoyed this book; but because of my own life experience, my enjoyment was depleted.
Three children (all who have trouble related to vocalization) become friends at summer camp, help a ghost to unify his broken family, and grow as people.
In the year 1999, three city kids are lured away from summer camp, multiple times, to an abandoned building in the woods that is filled with music, games, and candy.
(Same story. Same kids.)
The book is interesting within its genre because the odds are that the reader will be able to relate to at least one main character.
I got a copy of this book when I interviewed the author about writing a debut book. This review is honest and unbiased, all opinions are my own.
I would not recommend this book to school libraries. I feel that a parent or guardian should read it first, then have a long discussion with their child about not following random music, going off alone into the woods at night, taking food from strangers, breaking into abandoned buildings, talking to strangers (including ghosts), and wandering off without telling an adult where you're going. Once those warnings are drilled into their heads, then carry on with reading this book and enjoying the happy magic of a world where breaking all of those rules goes perfectly fine.
I don't read a lot of middle-grade novels. I do like books about self-acceptance, especially as it relates to vocalization. But I don't encounter many books where horrific-sounding situations all turn out to be peachy fine. Darby sometimes bugged me because I felt she had "poor little rich-girl" problems, which I tend to find annoying. I nearly didn't finish reading this book. My spouse kept taking it away from me because it triggered me too much. The reason I finally did finish this book was because I talked to a teammate (Dena) who assured me that the children would all live happily ever after. (I honestly thought someone was going to die, possibly be eaten.)
I don't think I'll read the next books in the series. I'm sure they'll be just as good as this one, but it isn't my cup of tea.
The book has a happily-ever-after. It's a good story of friendship. (It isn't meant to be scary or haunting, but for me it was absolutely edge-of-my-seat panic-induced terrifying.) It's not predictable. It is a bit spiritual and meaningful. In some ways, it's fun and entertaining. Chapter 13 had a tear-jerker moment.
It might be a diverse book. Naz is from Morocco. Darby has a stutter, and her mother tells her she'll never get anywhere if she doesn't overcome it. (I love that I read this book after Biden became President. I want to shove that in the mother's face. Though eventually, the mother becomes a sympathetic character. But still, she never taught her daughter not to wander off alone in the woods in the middle of the night and not to take candy from strangers, so I'm gonna keep judging her harshly because she's fictional and I can.) Visually, Katie Usher and Darby have reddish-brown curly hair. Geoff Usher (and possibly Chad Usher) and Justin have sandy hair. Geoff Usher and Naz have olive skin and blue eyes. Mrs. Usher had dark skin and was born in India. Chad Usher has dark skin. Leroy Usher has wavy black hair and blue eyes. The Usher family has a totem pole (so someone is a Native American from a tribe of the Northwest Coast of the United States or Canada - though they live near Chicago).
Chad and Katie have names with initials that could also be used in the word LUCK. Their brother, Geoff, does not.
There are minor characters in the book, such as a set of twin girls. One twin, Jessica, grows as a character and a person, but her sister does not.
An excerpt that caught my attention:
~No one listens, so what's the point? Eventually, it was natural to simply remain silent all the time.~
Justin thinks that, and it's the reasoning he used when he decided to stop speaking after his father's death.
I learned about calliope music from looking it up because of this book. I had also never heard of Johnny Rebeck before. (It's a song.) I've never heard of Jack Sprat before. I learned that headlamps are another word for headlights.
The book cover is okay (the one with the orange building, neon Ferris wheel, and silhouettes of three children), but I wish it showed the trolley so I'd have a better idea of what that looked like. The title makes sense, and L.U.C.K. is used many times in the book. The book is well-edited.
The book's life lessons are about believing in yourself and seeing things from the point of view of others. The main setting is Camp Inch, which seems like a very expensive camp with absolutely no security and minimum supervision for the young children. The magic of the book reminded me of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (but without a parent accompanying their child), or Mary Poppins (but without the parents having ever met Mary), and Hansel and Gretel (but thankfully without the cannibal witch).
If the children had proper supervision, a camp counselor going with them perhaps, or an older sibling who knew what was going on, I would give the book five stars. If any of the adults at Camp Inch had at least noticed three children under their charge going missing (it happens several times) and searched for them, I'd give the book four stars (five if the kids got a lecture about not being lured off into the forest by music, candy, rides and games in an abandoned building, why trespassing is illegal, how dangerous walking by a highway can be - especially at night, that an adult should always know where you are...). As it is, I worried my head off for these three fictional children, and that the dangers are never addressed bothers me enough that I'm giving it only three stars. The writing is excellent, the characters are well-developed, the plot is interesting-- it's just the things that didn't go wrong and could have (the real "luck" of the story, in my opinion, is that no children were seriously injured in the woods at night, not kidnapped while so near a highway alone, not arrested for trespassing or breaking and entering, and that interacting with a stranger didn't have tragic results).
To what website do you think Operation Awesome should give our next recommendation award?