In The Lucky Ones, an impoverished family in the rural south takes a big step up during the Civil Rights struggles of the 1960s.
The Lucky Ones by Linda Williams Jackson. Candlewick, 2022, 304 pages.
Reading Level: Middle Grades, ages 10-12
Recommended for: ages 10-14
Portrait of Poverty
Ellis Earl Brown has ambitions: he’s going to become a lawyer or a teacher, or maybe both. It seems a reasonable goal for an 11-year-old who applies himself at school, but Ellis Earl happens to live in Mississippi in 1967, a middle child in a large black family whose single mother barely earns enough to buy food. His older siblings, all school dropouts, scoff at his goals. The younger ones drain his time and energy. His next-oldest sibling, Oscar, got sick in the fall and can’t seem to get well. Only Ellis Earl and his sister Carrie Ann attend school now, and it’s understood that they’ll drop out as soon as they’re old enough to earn a few dollars at some menial job.
It’s a grim scene, except for Mr. Foster, Ellis Earl’s teacher and mentor. Mr. Foster brings food to school to share with students. He provides books for them to take home, such as Ellis Earl’s new favorite, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Mr. Foster sees his students’ potential and goes many extra miles to encourage them, including inviting them to church. Also, Mr. Foster sees a brighter day coming, especially as no less a personage than Robert F. Kennedy is coming to Mississippi to see conditions among the poor for himself.
It’s hard for today’s children to imagine such depths of poverty in our own country, and that’s one aspect that makes The Lucky Ones a profitable read. The writing style is a bit clunky, especially at first, but we soon get involved in the story and the Brown family. Mama is a widow, determined to support her offspring by any means necessary. The older boys and Ellis Earl’s big sister Jeannette lean on him hard, but they also take on responsibility above their years. Mr. Foster is a model of Christian patience and charity. Their politics are overly worshipful of the Kennedy family, including JFK who they believe was assassinated “for wanting to help black people.” But that is probably how many saw it at the time. The ending may be too sunny, but it portends the new opportunities that actually opened up for this community. We feel the Brown family, at least, will make good use of them.
Overall Rating: 4
Worldview/moral value: 4.25
Artistic/literary value: 3.75
Read more about our ratings here.
Also at Redeemed Reader
Reviews: We’ve Got a Job tells the true story of the Birmingham Children’s March, referenced in The Lucky Ones. Also see our starred review of The Promise of Change, about breaking the chains of school segregation.
Reflection: Read Betsy’s thoughts on The Legacy of Mildred Taylor and the Logan Family saga.
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