Book Review: The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata

This is the second novel by Cynthia Kadohata that I’ve read, and I definitely like her style.  She’s got an intense way of getting into the head of teenaged and pre-teen characters that really shows the world in a believable way.  The Thing About Luck focuses on the year of bad luck that Summer, a first generation Japanese American girl, and her family face.  It shows her journey into understanding herself and her family’s situation better, and it fits a grander theme of coming of age narratives.

All through the novel, Summer is faced with various ethical dilemmas and her various cultural and personal influences thoughts and pushes on how to deal with them.  She clearly grows and matures while still having a very self consistent voice that is very appealing.  Even when the reader can tell she’s about to do something that isn’t a very good idea, they can also see why she’s doing it.  One of the things that I loved about some of these themes throughout the novel is that there often wasn’t a best choice.  However, the reader can see her making better and better choices (for the most part) as the novel progresses.

One of the other things that I love about the novel is that it has a very open, caring view on a family that clearly has some neurodivergence.  In the end, Summer and Jaz (her younger brother, whose is shown as being somehow neurodivergent) are a pair of siblings who are clearly close and go to each other with important things, even if they have their differences like most siblings.  The conflict in the novel that deals with this has more to do with people outside the family not being fair to him, but it does seem to be getting better.

Overall, I would recommend this book for late elementary school through middle school readers, and I would pair it with other coming of age narratives.  There’s definitely some interesting things about farming/rural settings that could be used as a theme for what to put this with as well.

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Book Review: Half a World Away by Cynthia Kadohata

I picked up Half a World Away by Cynthia Kadohata from the library on a whim when I saw that part of the book was set in Kazakhstan.  A quick glance told me that it would fit this project, but I didn’t take all that much time to mull over whether it would be a good fit.  (I’m a small part Kazakh, and it’s a part of my heritage and history that I want to know more about than I do.)  The book turned out to be interesting to me in all sorts of ways beyond just that.

Kadohata tackles adoption from foreign countries in all the hard ways in this novel.  She presents characters with flaws, major ones, that are still sympathetic and have the reader wanting everything to turn out alright for them.  Almost ever single character in the book is likable in some way, and I really appreciated that she managed to make some of the characters be at odds to each other and still likable.

I also loved that the novel had strong positive representations of mental health care (not as infallible but as useful), adoption (which I already mentioned, but it bears repeating), and unconventional families.  I need to see more of all of these in literature.

On top of being a good look into a hard topic, Half a World Away is beautifully written with real sounding dialogue and interesting descriptions of the world.  It’s a book that I definitely think will merit several re-reads to catch details that I missed before.  The emotional arcs of the characters were fascinating, and there was a lot going on in a small amount of space.

Reading Level:  late-elementary through middle school, could definitely be brought back in higher levels, but high schoolers might not engage with it well because the protagonist is “too young”
Pair With:  narratives about immigration and adoption