Goodreads: Lucky Strikes
Published: July 5, 2016
Set in Depression-era Virginia, this is the story of orphaned Amelia and her struggle to keep her siblings together.
With her mama recently dead and her pa sight unseen since birth, fourteen-year-old Amelia is suddenly in charge of her younger brother and sister, and of the family gas station. Harley Blevins, local king and emperor of Standard Oil, is in hot pursuit to clinch his fuel monopoly. To keep him at bay and her family out of foster care, Melia must come up with a father, and fast. And so when a hobo rolls out of a passing truck, Melia grabs opportunity by its beard. Can she hold off the hounds till she comes of age?
When I first saw Lucky Strikes at the library, I assumed it was a middle grade book incorrectly shelved as YA, based simply on the cover art. I love illustrated covers, but this particular aesthetic is common among middle grades books like The Mysterious Benedict Society or The Book Scavenger. Additionally, the plot summary–girl needs to find a way to save family business–reminded me of middle grade books like Natalie Lloyd’s The Key to Extraordinary. On the other hand, the title is a cigarette reference, and the book does touch on things like smoking, cursing, drinking, and a little bit of sex. For those looking for an age level, I’d say Lucky Strikes works as a “lower young adult” or “upper middle grade,” but I am neither a teenager nor a middle schooler, and I enjoyed it simply as a good story about small town Virginia, a determined girl, and a quest to save a family.
Lucky Strikes gripped me from the start with Amelia’s spunky voice and strong spirit. I’m not always a fan of “voice” in novels (sacrilege, I know) because it can come across as forced and over-the-top. However, I completely bought that Amelia is from a small town/rural area in Virginia during the Depression era. She has just the right amount of regional dialect, plus she’s just funny and all-around entertaining to read about. Even when things are bleak–the novel does start with her mother’s death–she keeps things together and can find humor in situations that warrant it.
Amelia’s family is also a pleasure to read about. The sibling dynamics are relatable and realistic. Even though Amelia is doing her best to keep the family business going and her siblings from being sent to foster homes, she is not always the unquestioned heroine. She’s a teen (and human), so sometimes she’s wrong, and she’s an older sister, so sometimes she’s self-righteous and bossy. But the family works it out.
The one thing I didn’t really like was the sudden structure change near the end of the book. I don’t mind books with interesting structures, but it feels wrong to me when something totally new happens when the story is almost over; I prefer consistency in structure, and I think Bayard could have worked out another way to get all the information across that he wanted to. There are also some rather wild plot events near the end of the story, which puts a little dent in some of the realism of the book, but it’s all very exciting and dramatic, so I’m willing to accept them for the entertainment value. And I suppose all of it technically could happen.
Lucky Strikes was a lucky find for me. I haven’t seen this book mentioned anywhere in the book blogosphere or online at all, but it was a fun, moving, and engaging read. I hope I find more gems like this at my library this year.
*Side Note: We’ve had some discussions about religion in YA with some of our readers. Lucky Strikes does have a dash of religion, which I thought was cool. The protagonists are agnostic, and proudly so. (The original book title was apparently The Gas Station Pagans, which is the nickname the family gets from some townspeople for not being religious and attending church.) However, the book does acknowledge that many people in this small Southern town are very religious, and that their religion is very meaningful to them. I thought it was a nice touch of realism, even if it’s only mentioned in passing.