The heart of the novel The Higher Power of Lucky is its main character, Lucky Trimble, who manages to portray how ten-year-olds speak, reason, and feel in a timeless fashion. The way Lucky thinks about her life and, especially, the way she makes sense of her strange family and living situation are both heartbreaking and heartwarming. She finds meaning in pain, order in chaos, and humor in the midst of a dust storm.
At least as impressive, though, is how Lucky fits into the town of Hard Pan, California. With a population of only 43, it is a place where every detail matters, and Lucky, who idolizes Charles Darwin, studies it like the natural scientist she wants to be. The difference is that, though Lucky observes her environment with an acuity similar to Darwin’s, she is interwoven with her environment. Each of her perceptive observations is also an adaptation that carries emotional and spiritual implications.
On a simpler level, The Higher Power of Lucky is downright fun. Lucky’s eye for detail, her intense ambitions, her storytelling abilities, and her interactions with friends such as Lincoln the knot-obsessed are pure pleasure.
The Higher Power of Lucky begins with Lucky Trimble crouching next to a hole in the wall of Hard Pan’s Found Object Wind Chime Museum and Visitor Center, listening to a twelve-step meeting and stories about how people hit bottom and found their “Higher Powers.” Lucky is interested in finding her Higher Power.
Lucky goes home to the trailer where she lives with Brigitte, her guardian since her mother was accidentally killed. Brigitte had come from France at Lucky’s father’s request.
Lucky’s friend Lincoln calls to borrow a black permanent marker, and he asks Lucky to meet him at a traffic sign their friend Miles had asked about. Lucky does. The sign says “Slow Children at Play” until Lincoln adds a colon so that it now reads “Slow: Children at Play,” making the sign’s intended meaning more clear, an act Lucky labels “presidential.”
A few days later, Lucky is at home killing bugs for her insect collection when her five-year-old friend Miles comes over for some cookies and a story. Miles wants Lucky to read him his favorite book, Are You My Mother?, but Lucky counters with a story about the “Olden Days of Hard Pan” starring Chesterfield the Burro. Miles wants more stories, but Lucky says no.
Just then, Brigitte gets home, so Miles gets her to tell the story of how she came to Hard Pan. As Brigitte unpacks her government surplus supplies, she tells her story. She and Lucky’s father had been married a long time ago. When Lucky’s mother was killed, Lucky’s father called Brigitte in France and asked her to come help. She flew to Los Angeles airport and then drove through the city until she reached the desert and, eventually, Hard Pan. Brigitte had planned to stay only a short time, just until a foster family could be found for Lucky, but it took a long time, and to help with the paperwork she became Lucky’s legal guardian.
After Miles leaves, Brigitte goes to get their mail from their post office box. Lucky prepares for her future as a famous scientist by writing a museum exhibit on the tarantula hawk wasp. After Brigitte gets home, she goes to finish the laundry that Lucky was supposed to have done. However, she found a snake has gotten into the dryer. Brigitte is terrified of snakes, so she seals the dryer closed with duct tape. Lucky approaches the problem like a scientist, banging on the dryer until the snake goes back out through the vent and into the desert.
Lucky leaves Brigitte listening to sad French songs and goes to visit Short Sammy in his water tank house. Sammy is trying to find a way to make the government surplus food tasty. Lincoln is there, and the three of them talk about Brigitte and the differences between Hard Pan and France. Short Sammy suggests that Brigitte needs a job.
On Sunday, Lucky calls Lincoln to talk about the urn containing her mother’s ashes. Lucky had been given the urn two years ago, just after Brigitte arrived, and was supposed to sprinkle the ashes on the ground at the memorial service. However, she had not been able to do it. Lincoln tells Lucky that the man who had brought the ashes had been her father. Lucky had not known this and asks why. Lincoln has no answer, but he gives her a beautiful knot he had woven.
Later that day, Lucky listens in on the twelve-step meeting for...
(The entire section is 1370 words.)
Chapter 1 Summary
As The Higher Power of Lucky begins, ten-year-old Lucky sits by the dumpster behind the Found Object Wind Chime Museum and Visitor Center in her home town of Hard Pan, California. She puts her ear to a little hole in the wall that allows her to eavesdrop on an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. She listens with interest as Short Sammy tells the story of how he hit rock bottom and found his Higher Power.
In the story, Short Sammy drinks half a gallon of rum in the front seat of his car, then watches a rattlesnake bite his dog, Roy, on the scrotum. Short Sammy scrambles out of the car so fast he falls and passes out. The next morning he wakes up in a pool of blood, shivering in spite of hundred degree heat. He cannot find Roy, and he makes a deal with himself that he will quit drinking if the dog is okay. Not long later, his wife drives up and says the dog is going to be okay because she took him to the vet for antivenom. She loads some suitcases and dog bowls into her car and drives away forever. Short Sammy has not seen her or Roy since—but he has kept his promise to stop drinking anyway.
Lucky has heard Short Sammy’s story often, and she loves it best of all the stories from the various anonymous meetings. She habitually eavesdrops not only on the recovering alcoholics, but also on the recovering gamblers, smokers, and overeaters. She can get away with this because she has an after-school job cleaning up the trash people leave behind after each meeting. The recovering alcoholics cannot stand to look at the beer cans left behind by the recovering smokers and gamblers; the recovering smokers cannot stand to look at the cigarette butts left behind by the alcoholics; and so on. Lucky’s job is great not only because it gives her a chance to hang around the meetings, but also because it is one of just three paying jobs in the town of Hard Pan, population 43.
Lucky finds some of the anonymous stories entertaining, but...
(The entire section is 583 words.)
Chapter 2 Summary
When Lucky arrives home, she sees Brigitte’s shoes on the front steps and her dog, HMS Beagle, hiding in the shade under the front porch. Lucky knows this means her guardian is cleaning the floors. Brigitte always cleans floors barefoot, leaving the dog outside, so the floors do not get dirty again while she works. Lucky steps inside, drops the survival backpack she carries everywhere, and takes off her hat. She ponders Brigitte’s bare feet, which are strange and bony, not at all like Lucky’s sturdy, thick ones. Lucky is pretty sure that if Brigitte ever had a baby of her own, it would have bony feet too. It would probably also have great posture, as Brigitte does.
Brigitte is on the phone with her mother. She pauses to greet Lucky and offer her some iced tea. She calls Lucky mon choux, which means “my cabbage” in French. Lucky sighs and thinks that if Brigitte had a baby, she would probably call it by a sweeter and nicer nickname. While Brigitte talks to her mother, Lucky drinks cold sun tea, which is the best kind of tea because you can make it without using the stove and making the whole kitchen hotter. Lucky runs her fingers through her hair, feeling how sweaty and crusty it is. She wishes that Dot, the hairdresser, could get it to look like the pictures Lucky finds in the magazine. Instead it always looks “like some kind of mushroom-colored garden hedge.”
When Lucky is finished with her tea, she slurps ice cubes and wishes she knew French so that she could understand Brigitte’s side of the conversation with her mother. Brigitte’s mother is a selfish woman who is “working on a secret, sinister plan to lure Brigitte back to France.” She is always sending little packages that make Brigitte homesick. Last week, for example, she sent a little tube of mustard, and when Brigitte tasted it she smiled and cried because it reminded her of home.
When Brigitte gets off the phone, she says her mother has sent Lucky a bisou, “a big kiss.” She tells Lucky they will have a cold salad for dinner because it is too hot to cook. Lucky asks hopefully if they have the kind of olives she likes. Brigitte looks through the fridge and says no, they will just have to “make it do” with the canned black olives from the local store. Lucky corrects her, saying they have to “make do,” instead. Brigitte sighs and agrees.
Chapter 3 Summary
Lucky often thinks about the women of America and wonders which one will become her mother if Brigitte goes back to France. Mainly Lucky wonders how to “trap and catch” the best one, and she thinks she could probably do that if she could find her Higher Power. However, whenever she thinks about the perfect mom, she always thinks of Brigitte. That makes her think about how to be the perfect kid instead.
In most ways, Lucky is pretty close to being the perfect kid already, but she is not absolutely perfect. Brigitte does not seem to know how great Lucky is. She only seems to notice Lucky’s bad traits. For example, Lucky chooses not to speak French, “a jumpy language full of sounds that you have to gargle in the...
(The entire section is 513 words.)
Chapter 4 Summary
It is Friday afternoon, but Lucky is working on her homework already. She is starting a report on the life cycle of the ant when she gets a phone call from her friend Lincoln, who asks her to find a black permanent marker and meet him next to a sign on the highway at the entrance of Hard Pan. Lucky agrees to go, and before she leaves her trailer, she examines herself in the mirror. She does not like her appearance, mainly because her hair, eyes, and skin are all about the same color. Brigitte will not let Lucky wear makeup yet, so she dabs some mineral oil on her eyebrows to make them shiny.
Lucky arrives at the sign before Lincoln does. She looks around for ants, hoping to capture some for her report, and she...
(The entire section is 540 words.)
Chapter 5 Summary
On Saturday morning, Brigitte goes to the home of a man called the Captain to pick up some food. Lucky decides to use the time alone to check the contents of her survival backpack. As she begins laying out her supplies, she hears a sound like a squealing pig outside her door. Lucky knows it is not a pig. It is Miles, a five-year-old boy who likes to make funny noises. She calls out to him through the door, offering him a deal: she will tell him one story about Hard Pan in the old days if he agrees not to make weird noises while she talks, and if he goes home right afterward.
Miles spends most of his time wandering around town making noises, demanding that people read Are You My Mother out loud, and asking...
(The entire section is 451 words.)
Chapter 6 Summary
Brigitte comes into the kitchen trailer carrying big bags full of Government Surplus food. She complains about the heat as she unloads them. Lucky looks over the supplies, which include canned meat and fruit, butter, and something orange she does not recognize. She asks if it is cheese, and Brigitte does not know. Brigitte cuts open the package, smells the soft orange contents, and tries to feed some to HMS Beagle. When HMS Beagle refuses to eat it, she says, “No wonder it is free, that cheese.”
The Government Surplus food comes to Hard Pan on the last Saturday of every month. People only get to take a share if they make very little money, but pretty much everyone in Hard Pan is poor. Most of the town’s 43...
(The entire section is 586 words.)
Chapter 7 Summary
After Miles leaves, Lucky considers how to avoid having to move away from Hard Pan and live with a foster family. Lucky thinks that if she can become a world-famous scientist, Brigitte will not miss France so much. She will be too busy basking in “the extreme glory of being a world-famous scientist’s guardian.” Lucky figures that to get famous, she will need to lure people to Hard Pan to see her scientific work. She decides to make a new, fascinating exhibit for the Found Object Wind Chime Museum and Visitor Center. The museum is not “museumy enough,” but if Lucky can make a fantastic exhibit, then people around the world—even in France—will hear about it and come to see it. If that happens, then Brigitte...
(The entire section is 485 words.)
Chapter 8 Summary
Lucky quickly puts her specimens back into their boxes, but Brigitte has already seen them. Brigitte sighs but does not make Lucky scrub the table as usual. Instead she goes to the window and looks out at the desert. She is carrying an envelope from Lucky’s father. He never sends a letter with his monthly check, but Lucky thinks it might happen someday. When she asks, Brigitte says he has not sent a letter this month, “only the little check that is never enough.”
Lucky has forgotten to put the laundry in the dryer as she was supposed to, so Brigitte goes to do it herself. A moment later, she screams and drags Lucky out of the trailer. When she is capable of speaking, she informs Lucky that there is a snake in the...
(The entire section is 606 words.)
Chapter 9 Summary
After her adventure with the snake, Lucky goes to Short Sammy’s water tank house to see what he is doing with this month’s Government Surplus food. Short Sammy always likes to make up new recipes, and they almost always involve bacon grease. His house used to be the town’s water tank until it got too full of leaks. He has cut four windows and a crooked door into the structure. Lucky likes the house because it does not have the “straightness and squareness and corners” of a normal home, and because it is all one room. Sammy has a bed, a stove for cooking in winter, and a table with a few chairs. On the wall, he has nails with his clothes and cowboy hats hanging on them, as well as a single photo. The picture is of his dog,...
(The entire section is 580 words.)
Chapter 10 Summary
When Lucky's mother died, Lucky learned that not every dead person gets buried. Some people get taken to a place called a crematorium and put inside a box which goes through a process that turns them into ashes. The funeral home people scoop these ashes out of the box and put them into a thing called an urn, which looks just like a nice vase but also has a tight lid “so nothing can spill out if it gets accidentally knocked over.”
Lucky remembers how, a couple of days after Brigitte came to Hard Pan, a man in a suit arrived at the door to give Lucky an urn. He told her it held her mother’s remains, and that she would have to fling them into the wind at the memorial service. Lucky had no idea what the man was...
(The entire section is 761 words.)
Chapter 11 Summary
On Sunday afternoon, Lucky has to go to work at the museum. Today is the Smokers Anonymous meeting, so she carefully cleans up all the cigarette butts left over from Alcoholics Anonymous. The ex-smokers cannot stand to see or smell a single butt, so she is careful to be thorough. When she is finished, she carefully stashes her broom and rake. Then she hides out by the dumpsters to hear the ex-smokers talk.
As the meeting begins, someone reads from a book called Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. Lucky finds this part boring, but she tries to listen carefully in case anyone mentions something about Higher Powers. Then comes the story part, when everyone tells how they hit rock bottom and decided to quit...
(The entire section is 471 words.)
Chapter 12 Summary
After dinner, Lucky thinks about parsley while she washes the dishes. Before Brigitte came to Hard Pan, Lucky never thought about parsley except when she went to Smithy’s Family Restaurant in Sierra City. Lucky knows Smithy’s is a fancy place, partly because of the sprig of parsley that comes with the hamburgers. Almost nobody eats this parsley, but it looks fancy and healthy on the plate.
Brigitte is not like the people at Smithy's. To her, parsley is a necessary part of almost every meal. She serves it chopped up and sprinkled over “practically everything, including food regular people do not even realize goes with parsley,” such as garlic toast. Lucky likes this. Parsley makes everything taste clean,...
(The entire section is 579 words.)
Chapter 13 Summary
Normally at bedtime, Lucky sits on Brigitte’s lap “the same way you would sit on a chair.” Brigitte hugs her, and they talk for a while. Lucky considers it “babyish” to sit on someone’s lap, but she likes it anyway. She likes the closeness and Brigitte’s clean smell. Also Brigitte seems to love this part of being a guardian, which makes “Lucky’s heart fill up with molecules of hope.”
When Brigitte gets home with the repaired parsley grinder, Lucky pulls on her pajamas and waits. Brigitte does not come, so Lucky goes to the kitchen trailer and sticks her head in the freezer. She says she is ready for bed, but Brigitte does not take the hint. She tells Lucky to close the freezer and let her study. To...
(The entire section is 460 words.)
Chapter 14 Summary
On Monday morning when Lucky wakes up, she does not know that she will receive Three Signs telling her she is on the right path. However, her plan to run away is fixed more firmly in her mind than it was when she went to bed. It feels like the kind of plan she can actually do right, not the kind that is likely to cause tragic accidents. She decides to leave as soon as she gets home from school in the afternoon.
Lucky is almost late for the school bus, so she jogs to catch it. As soon as she crests the hill, she sees Lincoln already waiting in the back. She also sees Miles far behind her, skipping from his house. Sandy, the bus driver, waves impatiently at the kids to hurry up. Lucky gets on and waits to help Miles up...
(The entire section is 429 words.)
Chapter 15 Summary
All day at school, Lucky looks forward to running away. During science, she is delighted to hear a story about Charles Darwin, her favorite scientist, putting an interesting beetle in his mouth to keep it safe when his hands were full. This is the sort of thing Lucky herself would do, except that she always carries specimen boxes with her for that kind of emergency. Then the teacher explains how animals adapt to their environments. Lucky thinks this over and realizes that she is sandy-colored not because she is ugly, but because she is highly adapted to the desert. Her mushroomy brown complexion and hair make her look like the land around her. This idea thrills her, and it is the Second Sign that she is on the right path....
(The entire section is 406 words.)
Chapter 16 Summary
When she arrives back in Hard Pan, Lucky sees Brigitte’s car at the Captain’s house, so she runs home and packs her things to run away. She hopes that Brigitte will not notice she is gone until late afternoon, when the bus normally drops her off. Lucky rushes to pack quickly so that she can leave before the sandstorm gets bad enough to blow roofs off of houses or confuse her about which direction she is going.
In her survival backpack, Lucky carries specimen boxes, mineral oil, Lincoln’s special knot, a copy of the twelve-step handbook, and other important items to keep her from getting bored and sad while she is gone. She also takes toilet paper, food, the parsley grinder, and her mother’s ashes. She shoves...
(The entire section is 512 words.)
Chapter 17 Summary
Now that the moment to run has really come, Lucky is almost too worried and scared to do it. She worries about losing her job and about getting in trouble. Plus she knows she should help look for Miles since it is her fault that nobody knows where he is. Getting rid of him was necessary, though, and she knows she cannot waste all the effort she spent preparing to run away. Nor is she willing to share the glory of running with a little five-year-old. His problems are his problems, not hers.
Lucky puts on her dust mask, wraps a wet towel around her head, and grabs Miles’s book on the way out the door. She pulls on her survival backpack, which feels like it weighs an enormous amount, and sets out toward the road with HMS...
(The entire section is 676 words.)
Chapter 18 Summary
Lucky realizes immediately that the person in the road is Miles. She does not want him with her right now. He is all wrapped up, and he has not seen her. If she leaves him behind, nobody will ever know. She turns and starts to leave, but on her way back to the dugouts she realizes that if she does not help him, she will not be very happy when she has to do her “searching and fearless moral inventory of herself.” She goes back to help him.
Miles wraps his arms around Lucky and presses his snot-covered face into her dress. He explains that he was hoping Chesterfield would find him, and he claims a coyote snuffled him. Lucky tells him that there was no coyote, only HMS Beagle, and that the dugouts are not far away....
(The entire section is 438 words.)
Chapter 19 Summary
Outside, the windstorm starts to die down. Miles begins making quail sounds, and Lucky does not have the energy to make him stop. Eventually he stops on his own. He puts his head down on Lucky’s towel and cries.
Lucky sighs and tells Miles it is time for dinner. This gets his interest, and he asks what they are having. Lucky offers hard-boiled eggs, but Miles only likes eggs “when the white part and the yellow part are mixed up together.” Lucky points out that there is no stove, fridge, or pan for cooking. Miles asks for gravy instead. Lucky tells him sternly that they are having beans. She gets out her single can of beans and realizes there is no can opener.
Rather than admit to Miles that she does...
(The entire section is 486 words.)
Chapter 20 Summary
Lucky has always worried about getting a bug in her ear, but the real thing is even more painful and terrifying than she imagined. The noise of the insect’s fluttering is so loud she can hardly hear. Miles offers to dig the bug out, but Lucky thinks that is a bad idea. She grabs her mineral oil, lies down with her ear pointed up, and tries to pour the oil into her ear.
Lucky wants to drown the bug, but on her first attempt, she spills most of the oil on her hair and neck. For a moment, she is devastated, thinking that she has wasted it all. Then she sees that she has a little left. She pours again, more carefully this time, and gets the oil in her ear. She holds still, trying to stop herself from panicking. Will her...
(The entire section is 432 words.)
Chapter 21 Summary
When Lincoln enters the dugout, Miles shouts that he and Lucky have run away. Lincoln says he already knows. Back in town, the adults looked everywhere for the two kids and did not find them. People are already speculating that the kids may be at the dugouts, so the whole town is sure to arrive soon. Lucky does not see any point in running, so they all sit snacking on Fig Newtons and hard-boiled eggs while they wait to be found.
The moon rises. Lucky looks up at it and thinks that she and the rest of the people of Earth are lucky to have the moon they have. Other planets have little moons or lots of moons. If Earth had something different, then all of Earth would be different. The tides would not work the same way, and...
(The entire section is 448 words.)
Chapters 22-23 Summary
Back at home, Lucky showers to wash off all the oil and sand and sweat and tears. She pulls on her nightgown and sits on Brigitte’s lap. Even though she is much too old to do this, she still fits nicely in the spot. Lucky examines her knees and Brigitte’s knees and thinks that they look pretty much the same—although Lucky’s are scabbed and girlish, while Brigitte’s are smooth and womanly.
Lucky asks about Brigitte’s passport and papers, and Brigitte explains that she wants to show them to a judge in the town of Independence so that she can legally adopt Lucky. She is taking the restaurant management course because she wants to open a restaurant in Hard Pan, not in France. When she realizes that Lucky thought...
(The entire section is 423 words.)