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...
(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 that is not why she listens. She listens because the anonymous people talk about finding their Higher Power in order to get control of their lives. Lucky does not understand why it is so hard to find a Higher Power, but she knows she wants to do it. She needs some control over her life, a way to figure out how to accept the things she cannot change and how to change the things she can—which is something the anonymous people always pray about during their meetings. Lucky figures it is best to...
(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.
(The entire section is 423 words.)
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 back of your throat.” Lucky’s throat simply cannot get these sounds right. All she can do is pronounce Brigitte’s name the French way: “Bree-JEET.”
Brigitte became Lucky’s guardian when Lucky was eight years old. That was the year Lucky’s mother, Lucille, went outside after a big rainstorm. Like Lucky, Lucille enjoyed the time right after storms because “it smells like the first day of the history of the world, like creosote and wild sage.” So Lucille went outside barefoot, thinking about the beauty of the world and not about her own safety, and she stepped on some fallen power lines. She got electrocuted and died.
Now when Lucky thinks about the traits she does and does not want in a mother, she mostly thinks that she wants someone who will keep safe and alert during and after rainstorms. She also thinks a good mother would marry a man who loves her and loves children—the kind of man who would take care of his kid if something bad ever happened to her. Unfortunately, Lucky’s mother did not marry such a man.
Long before Lucky was born, her father moved to France and married Brigitte. They ended up getting divorced because he did not want children. He moved back to the United States and met Lucky’s mother, Lucille, an artist who had silky skin and always smelled like paint. They got married, and Lucille got pregnant. Lucky’s father still did not want children, so he divorced Lucky's mother too.
When Lucille stepped barefoot on downed power lines and died, Lucky’s father called Brigitte and asked her to come take care of Lucky. Brigitte had a whole life in France, and she did not even know Lucky existed until she got that call. Still, she flew to...
(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 ends up watching some tiny ones marching to and from a small hole in the ground. She thinks about how easy ants are to kill, and she feels sorry for them—but then it occurs to her that ants are not focused on themselves. They care more about their jobs within the colony. She thinks an ant’s Higher Power is probably its community.
Lucky does not expect Lincoln to notice her eyebrows. He is obsessed with tying knots, and he is usually looking at his hands rather than at people. To her surprise, however, he asks why her eyebrows are “kind of wet.” When she explains about the oil, he thinks it over and says that her eyebrows go with the rest of her. Lucky thinks this might be a compliment, but she is not sure how to reply. She changes the subject to ask what he meant when he mentioned the sign on the phone.
Lincoln points to the sign—“SLOW CHILDREN AT PLAY”— and explains that he does not want visitors to think the children of Hard Pan are unintelligent or slow-moving. He asks for the pen, but Lucky hesitates. Lincoln’s mother wants him to be President of the United States when he grows up, so Lucky always tries to prevent him from getting in trouble. She knows that during his presidential campaign people will try to find out about every bad thing he has ever done in his life. What if someone finds out about him writing graffiti on a sign? Could it cause him to lose his election?
Unlike Lucky, Lincoln is basically unconcerned with his mother’s ambitions. He pressures Lucky to hand over the pen, and she does. She thinks he is going to write “down” next to “slow,” and she’s pretty sure it will look terrible. He surprises her, however, by putting in a colon,...
(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 people for cookies. He trades Lucky half a slice of banana nut bread for a Fig Newton, and she tells him a little about her survival kit. She does not carry a map because she figures if she needs the kit, she will be lost, and a map will not help. Instead she carries things that will be useful if she is alone, such as scientific equipment and a good book.
As Miles eats his cookie, Lucky tells him a story. She says that when she was five or six years old, she and HMS Beagle and a burro named Chesterfield moved into some old dugout caves beyond the edge of town. Hard Pan was still a mining town “with hundreds of people” at the time, so Lucky got a job as a dynamiter because she was small and quick. One day a beam fell down on top of her, and she sent HMS Beagle to get Chesterfield to pull her out. Chesterfield helped her just in time and became the hero of the day. Some time later, Chesterfield—who was a girl burro—decided to go live in the wild and have a baby. But she still sometimes appears to people who get in trouble in the desert, and she lets them ride her to safety.
During the story, Miles forgets Lucky’s rules and makes several silly noises. Then he begs her to read Are You My Mother out loud. Lucky is sick of this story, having read it to him many times already. She says no and tells him he has to leave. Sometimes she cannot help being mean to Miles in this way, and he seems near tears at being kicked out. Lucky then hears Brigitte’s car and relents. She offers to let him stay and listen to Brigitte tell the story of how she came to Hard Pan.
(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 residents do not work full-time. They live on disability checks or retirement checks or checks from fathers who do not like children.
When Miles presses her, Brigitte tells the story of how she came to Hard Pan. She explains that Lucky’s father is a “very foolish man” who does not want to take care of Lucky himself. Before Lucky was born, Brigitte married and divorced him. When Lucille—his second wife—died, he called Brigitte to ask her to come take care of Lucky. Brigitte had no job in France, and she wanted to see California. She agreed to come if he bought a plane ticket. That very evening, she boarded a plane wearing a red silk dress and carrying just one small suitcase. When she arrived in Los Angeles, she picked up a car Lucky’s father had rented for her, and she drove all the way out of the city and into the desert. Eventually she saw a sign that said “Hard Pan, Pop. 43.” She explains that she thought of Lucky’s mother and felt sad because “now it is Pop. 42.” Hearing this, Lucky realizes that the sign has not been changed, not even now. It is still correct, however, because Brigitte is the forty-third person.
Miles asks how Brigitte found Lucky when she got to town. Brigitte explains that she found the Captain and asked after Lucky in French. When the Captain figured out what she wanted, he took her to Short Sammy’s house, which is made out of an old water tank. Lucky was waiting there. Lucky vividly remembers that moment. To her, Brigitte in her red silk dress looked “too French, and too…fancy” for a place like Hard Pan.
Brigitte explains that she was supposed to take care of Lucky just for a few weeks, until a suitable foster family could be found. At...
(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 will be able to speak French to the visitors. All the French mothers will say they are jealous and wish they could have wards like Lucky.
At ten o’clock, most of the grown-ups in Hard Pan go to the post office. There is no store or restaurant or gas station in town, so the post office is the one place for people to gather and hear everyone else’s news while the Captain puts the mail in everyone’s PO boxes. Lucky knows that Brigitte will be gone for half an hour or more, so there will be plenty of time to start working on the museum display. Before she leaves, Brigitte asks Lucky to put the wash in the dryer when the cycle finishes.
As soon as Brigitte drives away, Lucky gets out all her best insect specimens. She is not supposed to put bugs on the kitchen table, but she does it anyway; it is the only place where she has enough room. She owns a number of impressive desert insects, including a tarantula, a scorpion, and a hawk wasp. She begins by writing a description of the wasp, an inch-long insect with orange wings that often dive bombs passing people. Lucky knows that many people, including Brigitte, are scared of hawk wasps, but fear is unnecessary. The wasps do not hurt people. They only hurt tarantulas.
Lucky works hard to make her description of the wasp “dramatic and scientific.” She begins with a title and a warning: “DO NOT READ ALOUD TO YOUNG CHILDREN.” Then she explains how the hawk wasp does not sting people but does sting tarantulas. The wasp’s venom paralyzes its tarantula victim. The wasp lays an egg in the tarantula’s still-living body and buries it. Later a grub hatches and eats the tarantula from the inside.
When Lucky finishes her...
(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 dryer. Lucky notes that Brigitte says “the word ‘snake’ like most people would say ‘rotting dead puss-filled rat.’” Brigitte has no idea what kind of snake it is, but she is certain that it is poisonous. She says, “Imagine to live in a place where just by doing the laundry you can be killed!”
Lucky tries to act very casual to show Brigitte that snakes are no big deal. If Brigitte would only think logically, she would see that snakes are cool, highly-evolved creatures. Lucky happens to know that the ancestors of snakes had legs, but snakes eventually evolved to lose their legs because they were better off without them.
Brigitte refuses to let Lucky open the dryer. Instead she applies duct tape to the cracks around the dryer door to make sure the snake cannot get out. Her plan is to leave the dryer shut until the snake dies. Lucky thinks this is a bad idea. She calls Lincoln and learns that snakes can climb into dryers through the outside vent. This happened to Myles’s grandmother once, and she simply turned the dryer on for thirty minutes to kill it.
Lucky does not want the snake in her dryer to die. Lincoln suggests catching a mouse to lure it out. Lucky finds the idea tempting but is not convinced it will work. Instead she climbs on top of the dryer and stomps, peering out the window as she does so. Brigitte does not know what Lucky is up to, but she does not tell her to stop. This is one of the good things about Brigitte. She listens to Lucky, especially on matters concerning life in Hard Pan and differences between America and France.
Not long after Lucky starts her stomping routine, the snake seems to get tired of the noise. It slithers out of 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, Roy, who survived a bite on the scrotum from a rattlesnake. Outside, he has a grill for cooking in summer, a hose for showers, and an outhouse.
Lucky arrives to find Short Sammy trying to find a way to cook with the strange Government cheese. Lincoln is already there, eating out of a Fritos bag with a spoon. Sammy tells Lucky that he has made chili with canned Government pork. Although she knows Brigitte thinks Sammy uses too much grease, Lucky loves his food and accepts eagerly when he offers her some. She opens a bag of Fritos and, going outside to the grill, spoons some chili on top. Then she spoons the contents out to eat, as Lincoln is doing. She thinks it is delicious.
Lucky tells Short Sammy and Lincoln about Brigitte’s encounter with the snake. Short Sammy calls red racers “good people” because they “get rid of rattlers and sidewinders.” Unlike Lucky, however, he is not impatient with Brigitte’s fear. He says Brigitte is lonely and stir-crazy. She needs a way to occupy her time. Lucky thinks being a guardian should be enough to occupy anyone. Besides, she knows there are no jobs to be had in Hard Pan. Lincoln says it would be great if Brigitte would open a restaurant because he loves the French apple desserts she makes. But Lucky thinks French food is too weird for the people who live in Hard Pan, and even for the geologists and tourists who trickle through.
Musing on Brigitte’s homesickness for France, Lucky asks Short Sammy if he has ever been there. When he says yes, she asks if it is better than California. Sammy tells her to take a look out the window, and she looks at the cluster of trailers and shacks that make up Hard Pan, population 43. Then she looks...
(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 talking about. It is now two years later, and she still worries about it.
On Sunday morning she finds Lincoln by the post office and asks him to tell her what he remembers about her mother’s memorial. Lincoln is busy drawing a complicated knot hitch in the dirt. He looks up and gives her “a piercing and thorough glance, like with X-ray eyes.” She assures him that she remembers the service, but she wants to hear what it was like for him.
Lincoln says that everyone in town went to the memorial. All the cars and trucks went in a procession, and some of the dogs even followed behind. They stopped at the old dugouts, where everyone sang “Amazing Grace.” Lincoln tells all this fairly confidently, but when he starts to say how good the air smelled, he falters and turns pink. Impatiently, Lucky informs him that it is stupid for him to resist mentioning the smell of rain just because her mother died after a storm. The rain is not responsible for killing her mother.
Lucky prompts Lincoln to go on, reminding him that she was supposed to scatter her mother’s ashes in the wind. “Why didn’t you?” he asks. Lucky thinks this over, remembering that she had the ashes in her bedroom before the service. She opened the urn and looked at the contents, and she realized that the white parts were little bits of bone. Although she thought it might be wrong, she touched them, feeling the “dry, feathery stuff” inside. Then she curled herself around the container, as if it were a doll or a child, and cried into it, purposely letting some tears fall on the ashes. She was not sure if this was allowed, but she wanted her tears to be with the remains. When she finally answers Lincoln’s question, she...
(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 smoking. The Captain talks first, saying he is so badly addicted to cigarettes that he used to smoke while showering and eating. His wife left him when he refused to quit. He thought it was too stressful a time to try quitting, but then he came to a twelve-steps meeting, found his Higher Power, and managed to give up his vice.
Lucky listens carefully to the end of the Captain’s story, hoping to hear clues about how and where she might search for her Higher Power. If she can find her Higher Power, she might know how to deal with a guardian who seems like she might flee home to France every time she hears French music or finds a snake in the dryer.
The next speaker is Mrs. Prender, Miles’s grandmother, who does not normally speak at the meetings. She says that she used to think she could never quit smoking. When she got pneumonia, she went out behind the hospital and smoked anyway. Once she accidentally set her couch on fire and her hair too—but she went on smoking. She knew her daughter started smoking young, but she figured she could not stop her child from smoking when she could not quit herself. Her daughter grew up and moved away, and one day Mrs. Prender received a call from the LA police saying that her daughter was going to jail for doing drugs. They asked Mrs. Prender to take in her grandson.
Lucky does not know what to make of this story. She knows the grandson has to be Miles, but she has been told that Miles’s mother is in Florida taking care of a friend who is sick. Mrs. Prender goes on, saying that when she took Miles in, she decided she could not set a bad example for another child. She quit smoking that very day, and she has never started again. As she takes in the end...
(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, like herbs.
It is apparently a French thing to like parsley so much. In France people have little hand grinders for their parsley. It makes herbs into “perfect little flakes” with almost no effort or mess. Brigitte missed her parsley grinder when she first came to the United States, so her mother sent her one. This made Brigitte cry with happiness.
Tonight, while washing the dishes, Lucky cleans the parsley grinder very well. In the process, she accidentally bends one of its little pins. When she puts it back together, she cannot turn the handle. When Brigitte sees this, she says “Oh, la vache,” which means, “Oh, the cow” but does not really have anything to do with cows. She says it the way people say “Oh, what a pain.” Lucky tries to fix the parsley grinder, but she cannot, so Brigitte calls Dot, the hairdresser, and asks to use a pair of little pliers she uses for making jewelry.
As Brigitte gets ready to go to Dot’s, Lucky looks for the car keys and ends up noticing the little red suitcase that Brigitte brought with her when she came from France. This suitcase has been in a closet for two years, and now it is out, sitting on a chair. Lucky peeks inside and sees Brigitte’s passport on top of a stack of papers. Lucky knows that passports are used only for going back and forth from one country to another, so she knows exactly what must be going on. Brigitte is leaving.
At this moment, Lucky hits rock bottom. Suddenly she understands that she has misunderstood the whole business with the Higher Power. She has always thought that, if she could find her Higher Power, she could get “special insight—about how the world works, and why...
(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 Lucky’s mind, it is weird for a grown-up to study and even weirder not to say why. Brigitte asks Lucky to stop interrupting, calling her, “ma puce,” which means “my flea.”
Lucky does not stop interrupting. She demands to know why Brigitte calls her “my flea.” She points out that she does not bite Brigitte, or suck her blood, or bother her, or make her itch, or make her skin all bumpy. They argue, and Lucky stomps off to her bedroom. On her way, she glimpses the booklet Brigitte is using for her studies. She is taking a course on restaurant management from the Culinary Institute of France. This, Lucky decides, is proof that Brigitte is going home.
In her bedroom, Lucky cries. She hopes Brigitte will come in, see the tears, and feel sorry—but Brigitte stays in the kitchen. Lucky resolves then to go through with her plan to run away. She is pretty sure that somebody will call the police, and Lucky’s father will find out. He will tell Brigitte to do her guardian job better. This idea pleases Lucky, who thinks that “by running away she [can] make people do things they wouldn’t do otherwise.”
Lucky decides that when she leaves, she will not just take what she needs to survive and keep from being bored; she will also take what she needs “in order to stay brave and not falter.” She will go to the miners’ dugouts and stay there for a week while she figures out what to do next. Then, maybe, she will sneak back into town and hide outside Dot’s place to listen to what people at the beauty salon are saying about her.
By now Lucky is almost asleep. Brigitte comes to the door, but it is too late. Lucky pretends to be sleeping and hopes Brigitte...
(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 steps, ignoring him when he tells her he can take care of himself. Sandy, as always, makes them all sit in the back so they cannot bother her during the 50-mile trip to school.
Lucky and Miles walk past sixty rows of empty seats to sit next to Lincoln at the back of the bus. Lincoln ties knots and Miles looks at Are You My Mother while they ride. When they pass by a sign declaring that Sammy DeSoto—their friend Short Sammy—has adopted a stretch of highway, Lucky points it out to Miles. Miles gets angry that Sandy refuses to stop so he can read it. “Some people need more time to sound out their words,” he says. Lucky and Lincoln “eye-smile” at each other when they hear this. Afterward, Lucky decides that this moment, when she and Lincoln have the same thought and know it, is the First Sign that she is on the right path. Neither of them says anything about it. Lincoln explains to Miles that Sandy cannot stop without making them late. He also explains what it means that Short Sammy has adopted a stretch of highway. Every week, Sammy goes out to the highway in an orange vest and a hat to pick up litter. That is why the road is so clean.
Miles begins making croaking noises, and Lincoln puts on his headphones. He does not own a music player, but wearing the headphones helps him concentrate when Miles makes his sounds. When Lucky cannot stand to listen any longer, she tells Miles a story to quiet him down. Miles asks for a Fig Newton. She sighs and fishes one out of her bag for him.
(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 Third Sign arrives just as Lucky is thinking she cannot wait for the school day to be over. The principal enters Lucky’s classroom and announces that a big dust storm is coming. She says all the kids who live far away have to pack up their things and go to their buses right away in order to get home before the storm hits. Lucky rushes to do as she is told. Normally dust storms scare and annoy her because they are so violent, and because they blow sand into the trailers no matter how tightly the doors and windows are closed. Today, however, she figures the storm just gives her more time to run away before it gets dark.
On the way home, Miles asks Lucky about Chesterfield, the burro from the stories she always tells about Hard Pan in the old days. He asks how Chesterfield and her baby burro will survive the dust storm. Lucky explains that only human beings die if they are caught outside during dust storms. Burros are well-adapted to the desert. They have long eyelashes to keep the sand out of their eyes, and they stick close together in the rough winds.
Miles does not seem very reassured, but he turns to Are You My Mother and begins sounding out the words. Both Lucky and Lincoln are annoyed at having to listen to this story for the millionth time, but there is nothing they can do about it but roll their eyes at each other. Lucky feels very close to Lincoln and considers telling him about her plans to run away, but she decides it is too risky.
(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 these extra items into a plastic grocery bag.
Just as she is about to leave, Miles arrives and asks Lucky to read Are You My Mother aloud. Lucky knows she cannot run away with Miles around, so she tells him he has to leave. She says he already has the story memorized, and it is dumb anyway. Miles argues, and she says, “That bird is an idiot snotwad…He doesn’t even realize that his mother is in jail!” Even though Miles is only five, he knows immediately that Lucky is talking about his own mother. He says Lucky is lying, but Lucky insists on the truth. She says that Miles’s mother will never take care of him and that she will not do so either. Miles runs away crying, and Lucky is not sorry.
Suddenly struck by an idea, Lucky gets out the beautiful red silk dress Brigitte wore the day she arrived in California. Lucky tugs off her clothes and pulls on the dress, which feels feathery against her skin. It is too big for her, but it still makes her feel beautiful and sophisticated. Its bright redness is “the same thing for your eyes as a sonic boom is for your ears, or a jalapeño pepper is for your mouth.” Before leaving, Lucky takes a few more moments to rub herself with sunscreen and grab a dust mask. She considers stealing Brigitte’s passport, too, but she decides she does not want to force Brigitte to stay. She wants Brigitte to feel sad about Lucky running away and decide to stay of her own accord.
The phone rings, and it is Mrs. Prender, Miles’s grandmother. She asks Lucky to send Miles home, but Lucky lies and says she has not seen him. Seconds later, Lincoln calls too. Lucky realizes that if her plan goes wrong, she may go off to an orphanage in Los...
(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 Beagle by her side. As soon as she gets outside, she is struck by the wind and noise of the storm. As she leaves town on the road, she congratulates herself for being well-prepared. Still, she is just a little afraid.
Lucky has trouble seeing in the wind, especially with the towel wrapped around her head. Litter and uprooted plants fly past her in the wind. Soon she needs to pee, so she makes her way off the road and squats in the dirt. Afterward, she realizes that her toilet paper is crammed at the bottom of the bag. She decides to let the air dry her this time. Later, in the dugouts, she will reorganize her stuff to put the toilet paper on top.
After peeing, Lucky tries to push herself to her feet. The wind is blowing hard, and her backpack is heavy. She ends up falling over onto her back. Feeling discouraged, she rolls over and stays lying on the ground for a while. Nobody knows or cares where she is. She barely has the strength to stand up, but when HMS Beagle runs out to the road, she makes herself follow.
After that, Lucky thinks about the twelve-step slogan, “One Day at a Time,” as she walks. She tries not to think about the whole, impossible project of walking to the dugouts. Instead, she thinks, “One Step at a Time.” She knows she can manage one step, and then another, and so on—so that is what she does. It is hard to do it in the wind, though, which is blowing so hard that at one point most of a washing machine flies by.
When HMS Beagle goes to sniff at a pile of rags on the road, Lucky does not stop. She calls, but HMS Beagle does not come. He sits by the rags instead. Lucky pushes onward, feeling sorry for herself because her dog does not care about...
(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. Miles cannot walk because he has a burr from a cholla cactus stuck in his foot. Lucky knows from experience that this is extremely painful, but there is no way to get the burr out with her fingers. She carries Miles piggyback, staggering under his weight.
Lucky did not think to bring pliers along with her supplies, so she fishes through her backpack looking for something else to use to pull out the cholla burr. While she looks, Miles drinks up the last of her Gatorade, and HMS Beagle drinks most of her water. Lucky concentrates on the problem at hand, but she does not know what to use to remove the burr.
As Lucky frowns over the supplies, Miles says she looks “pretty and kind of…grown up” in Brigitte’s dress. Lucky wonders if he is making fun of her, but he seems to be sincere. He sees the parsley grinder and asks if Brigitte is coming to make dinner. Lucky explains that she ran away and only took the grinder as a keepsake. However, the topic gives her an idea, and she takes the grinder apart and tells Miles to hold still. Carefully, she uses the part with the spokes to pry the burr off Miles’s foot. Miles shouts out in pain, but Lucky examines his foot carefully and sees that he his lucky: all the spines have come out. She knows it will keep hurting for a while, so she tells him to be brave.
Miles tells Lucky that he did not mean to run away; he was just looking for Chesterfield. Lucky tells him he will not be in trouble, but she is worried. Taking care of herself is hard enough. Taking care of a little boy is going to be far more difficult.
(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 not know how to feed him, Lucky says that they are going to open the can the way the old miners used to do it. Miles does not look impressed, and Lucky says:
Miles, do you realize we’re having a big adventure? This is going to be a lot of fun, but we have to be adaptable, like Chesterfield and the other burros.
Miles thinks this over and tells her he cannot “run away overnight” because he is “not allowed to.” Lucky ignores this comment and looks for a way to open her beans. She searches through the dugout until she finds an old screwdriver. She rubs it clean with sand, then presses it to the lid of the can and pounds the handle with a rock. This makes a little puncture. She works her way all around the can, making puncture after puncture until she can peel back the lid.
When she is finished, Lucky shows Miles how to put beans and ketchup in a spoon and eat it, just like the old miners. Miles, however, does not have the coordination to squeeze ketchup into a spoon without spilling it. “Don’t the old miners have a plate?” he asks. Lucky does not, so she tells him to squeeze ketchup straight into his mouth and then put in some beans. Miles does as she suggests. He spills beans and ketchup in his hair, but he does not complain or cut himself on the can. He says her cooking is almost as good as Short Sammy’s.
By the end of the meal, Lucky takes stock and decides she is doing a good job of running away. Even with the windstorm and Miles and the cholla burr and all the other problems, she has managed to keep going and stay in charge. Plus she looks grown up in Brigitte’s dress. Just as she is...
(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 plan work? She can still feel the bug fluttering. If she fails to drown it, she knows she may end up at a doctor's office. The doctor will dig it out with some scary tool. That is certain to feel far worse than a little oil, so she keeps still and waits.
Miles announces that he is going back to town to get help, but Lucky asks him not to leave her. She offers him a Fig Newton, but he says he should get help first. Lucky begs him to stay and read to her. He reminds her that he does not know how to read most books yet, but Lucky tells him she has exactly the right book in her bag. At first Miles thinks she is trying to trick him, but when he finds Are You My Mother, he eagerly sits down to read.
The bug is barely moving anymore when Miles starts the story. By the time it is over, Lucky cannot feel it moving at all. She decides it is safe to turn her head and drain her ear. When she tips her head, a little puddle of oil comes out, along with a tiny white moth.
As Lucky drains her ear, Miles asks if his mother is really in jail. When Lucky says yes, he thinks it over and decides it is better this way. If she is locked up, he reasons, “she’s not staying away from me on purpose.” Lucky does not know what to say at first. When Miles worries that his mother will be mad at him for running away, Lucky promises to say how brave he has been. Then they look up and see Lincoln coming to find them.
(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 life would be all wrong. Lucky feels certain, “both as a scientist and as a girl-speck looking for her Higher Power,” that any other moon situation on Earth would be less perfect.
As Lucky is thinking about this, a caravan of cars from town arrives. She recognizes Brigitte’s Jeep and everyone else’s cars, too. Miles runs out to meet everyone, but Lucky and Lincoln stay where they are. Lucky watches Miles’s grandmother hug him, and she wonders if people will think she kidnapped him. She imagines herself being locked up in a place for bad kids in Los Angeles. If that happens, she knows she will become a bad kid. She will be a Ward of the State, and unlike her current guardian, the State will not hug her and let her sit on its lap every night before bed.
Lucky decides that there is something she has to do before she gets hauled away. As the grown-ups hug Miles, she stays in the shadows and pulls the urn out of her bag. She steps out into the moonlight, feeling how it reflects off of the urn and the silk dress. She calls out, “Thank you for coming to this memorial service for my mother,” and everyone stops talking. They turn and face her, and Brigitte’s eyes fill up with tears.
Lucky is not sure what to do next, so she just says, “These are her remains.” She thinks about her mother and looks at Brigitte, who smiles and waits. Short Sammy begins to sing “Amazing Grace,” and everyone else joins in. Then, just as if some Higher Power is paying attention and knows exactly what needs to happen, a breeze rises. Lucky opens the urn and flings the remains into the air. They are carried into the desert on the wind and the song.
(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 she was leaving, Brigitte seems a little frustrated and a little sad.
Next Lucky asks what a scrotum is. Brigitte says it is “the little sack of the man or the animal which has in it the sperm to make a baby.” She asks, somewhat worriedly, why Lucky wants to know. Lucky says she heard someone say it. Brigitte says, “You know if anyone ever hurt you I would rip their heart out.” Lucky knows that this is Brigitte’s way of saying "I love you." Then Lucky says good-night in French—which is her way of saying “I love you” back.
Even after Brigitte opens her restaurant, Lucky keeps her job cleaning up outside the Found Object Wind Chime Museum and Visitor Center after the anonymous meetings. It is an easier job, though, because the twelve-step people do not litter as much now. Instead of hanging out on the street before and after their meetings, they sit in Brigitte’s restaurant and eat pie or sandwiches. Brigitte writes the names of these foods in French so that everyone in town—along with the geologists and tourists who pass through—learns a lot of French words. This makes Brigitte happy, and the work does too. Lucky sometimes helps out by grinding the parsley and sprinkling it over the food.
These days, when Lucky is finished cleaning up after the anonymous meetings, she fills her trash bag and tosses it in the dumpster. She often checks the spot where she used to eavesdrop on all the meetings. There, where the hole in the wall used to be, she finds a spot plugged with Fix-All. The sounds of the meetings no longer drift out. She has fixed it up pretty well.
(The entire section is 423 words.)