Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Middle-Grade Review: The Lotterys Plus One

I'm always intrigued when a popular and acclaimed author of adult fiction branches out into middle-grade or YA. In the case of Emma Donoghue (author of Room and other novels), her new middle-grade novel, The Lotterys Plus One, is every bit as good as her adult fiction. It's a fun, warm story with plenty of emotional depth about an unconventional family that I fell in love with.

Nine-year old Sumac is one of seven children, both adopted and biological, who lives in a huge house in Toronto called Camelottery, with two sets of gay parents and an unusual collection of pets. They are the very definition of a nontraditional family and practice not so much homeschooling as constant learning, with each child following his or her own interests. Her unusual family even has their own vocabulary. Each child has a designated day with a single parent called a One-to-One Lottafun, where the child chooses the activity. The two dads are known as PopCorn and PapaDum, and the two moms are CardaMom and MaxiMum. The children are all named for trees. They changed their last name when they won the lottery and bought this giant house. Into this noisy, chaotic, happy, multicultural family comes a decidely traditional new member. PopCorn's father, who has been estranged from his son for many years and whom the children have never met, develops dementia and comes to live with the Lotterys. The kids nickname him Grumps because he is not happy to be there, misses his own home, and thinks the entire family and their way of life are weird. Sumac decides he can't stay there, and sets about finding somewhere where he can be happy.

At first, with its silly names and strange ways, I thought The Lotterys Plus One was going to be a light, farcical story, but I was pleasantly surprised by its depth and heart. The novel actually delves into some complicated and serious issues about family, elder care, and aging. If you think it sounds confusing, with eleven (plus one) family members, the author does a great job of starting with four kids at first, and introducing the older three when they return from summer camp, making it much easier to get to know all of the characters as individuals. The audio book I listened to was excellent, and I had no problem keeping track of the diverse characters. The challenges the Lotterys face are very real, and I could relate since we moved my husband's dad (also a bit of a lovable grump) out here a few years ago. Donoghue successfully shows us this problem from a child's point of view and also shows that there are no easy answers (though things do turn out OK in the end). I absolutely loved spending time with the Lotterys and never wanted the book to end. I hope she will continue to write for middle-grade readers.

320 pages, Arthur A. Levine Books
Scholastic Audio

Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher in return for an honest review. My review is my own opinion and is not influenced by my relationship with the publisher or author.

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Listen to an audio sample at this link.

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  1. This sounds delightful! As someone who shares a house with parents who are aging (but by no means old yet at 73 and 78) I think I'll like this one.

    1. Similar here, too, Helen - though my 92-yo FIL lives in an Independent Living apartment nearby - but similar issues.

  2. I had no idea that Donoghue wrote middle grade fiction, and this one sounds great. Thanks for putting it on my radar!

    1. This is her first, Debbie - hope you like it! I also hope she writes more MG.