Monday, April 4, 2011

The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had Book Review

This book was a quick read, and being that it is historical fiction I thoroughly believed I would love it. This is a Virginia Readers' Choice title for this year so we are using it as one of our book club reads. It seems that every student who has read it has raved about it in person and on the blog so my expectations were high.

Dit lives in Moundville, Alabama where he is one of ten children. He is ecstatic when rumors spread that a new Postmaster is coming to town and that he has a boy Dit's age. Everyone gathers at the train station and off comes a black family, with a GIRL Dit's age. He is bummed but quickly realizes that in Emma he will find the best friend he has ever had.

Throughout that long, hot summer Dit and Emma's friendship endures racism, violence, and many other hardships prevalent in the South in the 1940s pertaining to the divisions between whites and blacks. Town secrets are revealed, and people are on edge. It all comes to a head when Doc Haley, the black town barber is put on trial for killing Big Foot, the town's white sheriff. Dit and Emma devise a plan to help him evade his execution and their friendship is tested to the limits.

While this novel is a nice example of a story that crosses racial lines, despite the culture of the South in the 1940s, the story just misses the mark. While Dit and Emma are good characters, as a reader I never became fully invested in them or their fate - especially Emma. Being that the story was from Dit's perspective, it makes sense that he would be the main character but Emma plays a central role and the depth that her character could have had was lacking. Additionally, the sweet romantic side story between Dit and Emma was not believable at all.

The storyline flows well, but it is a little unbelievable. The plot to free Doc Haley just isn't realistic and even a little far-fetched. A novel like this is a great opportunity to address life in the South during this time period but I feel like this novel scratched the surface.

Despite this, there were a few memorable passages that I earmarked to include in this review:

"It had been my idea last year to spell Isabelle i-d-i-o-t. I remember laughing as she cried. But this year it didn't seem funny. And I finally realized that the idiot had been me." (p. 83)

"Cept sometimes it was like she was there, 'cause I could hear her asking me all sorts of questions. Why hadn't I ever noticed that Chip's teasing comments sometimes made little kids cry? Why did I sometimes join in the teasing? Why did Chip suddenly want to spend more time with Buster? Why did Buster say yes to everything Chip wanted to do? Why did Chip and Buster play with Elbert on the ball field, but wouldn't speak to him if they ran into him on Mrs. Pooley's front porch? Why did Chip cheat at marbles? Why'd I cheat at marbles? Why was it okay to like girls when you were a little kid, bad when you were a big kid and then okay to marry them once you were all grown up? And why, if Chip was my real good friend, was I scared to mention Emma to him?" (p. 87-88)

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