The Thing About Luck

Illustrated by Julia Kuo

About The Book

There is bad luck, good luck, and making your own luck—which is exactly what Summer must do to save her family in this winner of the National Book Award by 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.

Cynthia Kadohata’s ode to the breadbasket of America has received six starred reviews and won the National Book Award.

About The Author

Photo Credit:

Cynthia Kadohata is the author of the Newbery Medal–winning book Kira-Kira, the National Book Award winner The Thing About Luck, the Jane Addams Peace Award and PEN America Award winner WeedflowerCracker!, Outside BeautyA Million Shades of GrayHalf a World Away, Place to Belong, and several critically acclaimed adult novels, including The Floating World. She lives with her dog and hockey-playing son in Los Angeles, California. Visit her online at CynthiaKadohata.com.

About The Illustrator

Julia Kuo is the creator of 20 Ways to Draw a Cat and 44 Other Awesome Animals as well as the charming board book Everyone Eats. Julia also created the cover and interior artwork for Newbery Medal–winning author Cynthia Kadohata’s The Thing About Luck and Place to Belong and New York Times bestselling author Jenny Han’s Clara Lee and the Apple Pie Dream. She lives in Chicago. Find out more online at JuliaKuo.com.

Raves and Reviews

* "It seems that if Summer’s Japanese American family didn’t have bad luck, they’d have no luck at all. Certainly good luck (kouun) is elusive. Consider that Summer has had malaria; her little brother, Jaz, is friendless; her parents have to fly to Japan to take care of elderly relatives; and her grandmother (Obaachan) and grandfather (Jii-chan) must pay the mortgage by coming out of retirement to work for a custom harvesting company. When the siblings accompany their grandparents on the harvest, Summer helps her grandmother, a cook, while Jaz is Jaz: intense, focused, and bad-tempered. At first, things go reasonably well, but then Jii-chan becomes sick, and it appears that it might be up to Summer to save the day. Will she succeed? Kadohata has written a gentle family story that is unusual in its focus on the mechanics of wheat harvesting. Readers may skim the more arcane aspects of the labor-intensive work, focusing instead on the emotionally rich and often humorous dynamics of Summer’s relationship with her old-fashioned but endearing grandparents and her troubled younger brother. Another engaging novel from the Newbery Medal–winning Kadohata."

– Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

* "Twelve-year-old Summer and her Japanese-American family work every harvest season to earn money to pay their mortgage. But this year, they face unprecedented physical and emotional challenges.
It has been a particularly hard-luck year. Among other strange occurrences, Summer was bitten by a stray, diseased mosquito and nearly died of malaria, and her grandmother suffers from sudden intense spinal pain. Now her parents must go to Japan to care for elderly relatives. So Summer, her brother and their grandparents must take on the whole burden of working the harvest and coping with one emergency after another. She writes a journal chronicling the frightening and overwhelming events, including endless facts about the mosquitoes she fears, the harvest process and the farm machinery that must be conquered. As the season progresses, her relationships with her grandparents and her brother change and deepen, reflecting her growing maturity. Her grandparents’ Japanese culture and perspective are treated lovingly and with gentle humor, as are her brother’s eccentricities. Kadohata makes all the right choices in structure and narrative. Summer’s voyage of self-discovery engages readers via her narration, her journal entries and diagrams, and even through her assigned book report of A Separate Peace.
Readers who peel back the layers of obsessions and fears will find a character who is determined, compassionate and altogether delightful."

– Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW

"Sharp characterizations and descriptive details about modern farming invigorate Newbery Medalist Kadohata’s (Kira-Kira) funny and warm story about the Japanese-American daughter of migrant workers. Twelve-year-old Summer’s family has suffered a year of bad luck that included Summer’s near-fatal contraction of malaria and her parents’ departure to Japan to be with ailing relatives. In order to make ends meet, Summer’s grandparents come out of retirement to work for custom harvesters, which requires them to travel throughout the Midwest. Taking time off from school to accompany them, Summer reflects on her paranoia about mosquitoes, her lonely younger brother’s inability to make friends, and her annoyance at her sharp-tongued grandmother. During a time of crisis, however, Summer must set her concerns aside to rise to a challenge. Lively dialogue and a succinct narrative laced with humor effectively convey Summer’s emotions, observations, and courage. Readers will relate to her uncertainties and admire both her compassion and her work ethic."

– Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

"Author Cynthia Kadohata does an excellent job of portraying the intensity of the lives of the farmers whose entire fortunes rest on their wheat crops being harvested at exactly the right point -- when the grain is mature and tests at the ideal moisture content. Any delay in harvesting combined with an untimely rain can conceivably wipe out the crop and the farmers' future, and readers get an eyeful of the ridiculously long hours the custom combine operators are forced to work when rain is forecast in the too-near future....Realizing that THE THING ABOUT LUCK is set in the present time, and there are girls like Summer out there today, wandering the nation's breadbasket with their migrant worker parents or grandparents, makes this an even more powerful read about an America that is a whole different world.
This is going to be a book well-worthy of adoption for sixth grade English curriculums."

– Richie Partington, MLIS, Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.com

"Fans of Kadohata’s Kira-Kira (S & S, 2004) will welcome this similarly gentle, character-driven exploration of familial bonds, this time set in the contemporary Midwest. With their parents called away to care for relatives in Japan, 12-year-old Summer and her younger brother, Jaz, accompany their grandparents, performing the grueling work that comes with the harvest season. In her likable voice, Summer observes the varying excitement, tedium, and challenges of harvesting wheat, sprinkling her narration with casual turns of phrase such as “OMG” and “epic fail” that will endear her to readers. Strong family ties suffuse this novel with a tremendous amount of heart. Though Summer’s brother has been diagnosed with a number of disorders, she prefers to think of him as simply “intense,” and, like most siblings, is alternately protective of and annoyed by his idiosyncrasies. Her grandparents, comically strict Obaachan and kindly Jiichan, bring warmth and humor with their cultural and generational differences. Kadohata expertly captures the uncertainties of the tween years as Summer navigates the balance of childlike concerns with the onset of increasingly grown-up responsibilities. She ponders the fragility of life after a brush with death from malaria, experiences newfound yearnings upon becoming preoccupied with a boy, and bravely steps up to save the day when her grandfather falls ill. The book’s leisurely pace and extensive information about grain harvesting require some amount of patience from readers, but their investment will be rewarded by Summer’s satisfying journey to self-actualization."

– School Library Journal,STARRED REVIEW

"Twelve-year-old narrator Summer lives with her brother, parents, and grandparents in Kansas in this funny, poignant novel that will give urban and suburban readers a glimpse of contemporary rural life. Summer explains how wheat farmers hire custom harvesters (independent contractors who own farming equipment), who in turn hire people like her parents to drive the combines all over the Midwest. But ever since Summer almost died from malaria, infected by a “rogue mosquito,” her family has been down on its luck. Now her parents have been summoned to Japan to care for dying elderly relatives and won’t be able to go “on harvest” this year. Money is tight, so Summer’s grandfather, Jiichan, comes out of retirement to drive a combine, while her grandmother, Obaachan, cooks for the work crew (with Summer as her assistant). It’s a hard life, but Summer’s chatty narrative and her grandparents’ terse humor manage to keep things light. Obaachan complains that her frizzy-haired granddaughter looks like “Yoko Ono, 1969”; Jiichan is forever clutching at his heart in reaction to such things as Teflon pans (“invented by someone who care more about easy than about good”). Summer’s first crush, her mosquito obsession, her notebook sketches—even her descriptive details about harvesting—add layers of interest. When a crisis hits, Summer gathers her courage and saves the situation; her exultance makes for an uplifting conclusion. She believes that when something—like a mosquito—almost kills you, you’re bonded to it for life; readers will see this is also true for Summer’s bond with Obaachan (whose harsh words mask her love) and with the backbreaking but satisfying work of harvesting."

– Horn Book, July/August 2013 Issue, STARRED REVIEW

"Author Cynthia Kadohata does an excellent job of portraying the intensity of the lives of the farmers whose entire fortunes rest on their wheat crops being harvested at exactly the right point -- when the grain is mature and tests at the ideal moisture content. Any delay in harvesting combined with an untimely rain can conceivably wipe out the crop and the farmers' future, and readers get an eyeful of the ridiculously long hours the custom combine operators are forced to work when rain is forecast in the too-near future.





It clearly comes down to everybody working no matter what, or being out of a job.



What is most intense about the story is the position in which twelve year-old Summer finds herself. Having, myself, grown up an eldest child who worked alongside my parents, I well-remember what it is like to feel the need to take on adult worries and responsibilities at a young age. But I never faced the littlest fraction of what this girl on the cusp of adolescence is handed.





Summer's brother Jaz is a child with significant social challenges, being that he is developmentally somewhere on the autistic spectrum. Summer must always be a good big sister to him and be his support system. Her grandmother has a severe chronic back condition on top of sometimes being prickly and often being difficult to understand. When the situation arises, Summer must be able to immediately prepare the meals for the crew by herself and smooth over the tensions that arise. Then, when her grandfather becomes seriously ill just at the time when the crew is being squeezed the hardest by impending bad weather, Summer is forced to take on the worry of whether her grandparents will lose their jobs, and whether this will result in her parents defaulting on their mortgage and losing the house in Kansas that they all share.





It all makes an earlier event in the story -- where Summer is faced with telling the truth in a very uncomfortable situation -- look like child's play.





Realizing that THE THING ABOUT LUCK is set in the present time, and there are girls like Summer out there today, wandering the nation's breadbasket with their migrant worker parents or grandparents, makes this an even more powerful read about an America that is a whole different world.




This is going to be a book well-worthy of adoption for sixth grade English curriculums."

– Richie Partington, MLIS, Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.com

"Author Cynthia Kadohata does an excellent job of portraying the intensity of the lives of the farmers whose entire fortunes rest on their wheat crops being harvested at exactly the right point -- when the grain is mature and tests at the ideal moisture content. Any delay in harvesting combined with an untimely rain can conceivably wipe out the crop and the farmers' future, and readers get an eyeful of the ridiculously long hours the custom combine operators are forced to work when rain is forecast in the too-near future.





It clearly comes down to everybody working no matter what, or being out of a job.



What is most intense about the story is the position in which twelve year-old Summer finds herself. Having, myself, grown up an eldest child who worked alongside my parents, I well-remember what it is like to feel the need to take on adult worries and responsibilities at a young age. But I never faced the littlest fraction of what this girl on the cusp of adolescence is handed.





Summer's brother Jaz is a child with significant social challenges, being that he is developmentally somewhere on the autistic spectrum. Summer must always be a good big sister to him and be his support system. Her grandmother has a severe chronic back condition on top of sometimes being prickly and often being difficult to understand. When the situation arises, Summer must be able to immediately prepare the meals for the crew by herself and smooth over the tensions that arise. Then, when her grandfather becomes seriously ill just at the time when the crew is being squeezed the hardest by impending bad weather, Summer is forced to take on the worry of whether her grandparents will lose their jobs, and whether this will result in her parents defaulting on their mortgage and losing the house in Kansas that they all share.





It all makes an earlier event in the story -- where Summer is faced with telling the truth in a very uncomfortable situation -- look like child's play.





Realizing that THE THING ABOUT LUCK is set in the present time, and there are girls like Summer out there today, wandering the nation's breadbasket with their migrant worker parents or grandparents, makes this an even more powerful read about an America that is a whole different world.




This is going to be a book well-worthy of adoption for sixth grade English curriculums."

– Richie Partington, MLIS, Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.com

Awards and Honors

  • National Book Award Winner
  • Booklist Editors' Choice
  • Keystone to Reading Book Award Master List (PA)
  • Booklinks Lasting Connections
  • Garden State Teen Book Award Nominee (NJ)
  • Capitol Choices List (DC)
  • Volunteer State Book Award Master List (TN)
  • Dorothy Canfield Fisher Book Award Master List (VT)
  • Charlie May Simon Book Award ML (AR)
  • Land of Enchantment Children's Book Award (NM)
  • Judy Lopez Memorial Award Honor Book
  • APALA Asian/Pacific American Awards for Literature
  • Illinois Reads Selection title
  • Bank Street Best Children's Book of the Year Selection Title
  • Center for the Study of Multicultural Children's Literature Best Multicultural Books List

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More books from this author: Cynthia Kadohata

More books from this illustrator: Julia Kuo