The Lotterys Plus One by Emma Donoghue, illustrated by Caroline Hadilaksono, 320 pp, RL 4
This Review Originally Appeared on May 8, 2017
The Lotterys Plus One is the first children's book by Emma Donoghue, author of, most notably, Room. With excellent illustrations by Caroline Hadilaksono reminds me of the books that were my favorites as a kid, books where quirky families living in big houses rambled across the pages. Books like A Wrinkle in Time, Meg with her attic room and many brothers and shows like The Brady Bunch and Eight is Enough were infinitely interesting, especially to a kid with one sibling living in a small apartment. As an adult reading kid's books, I still love a story with a big family, particularly if they live in a big house, and Donoghue does not disappoint on these counts. In fact, the Lotterys remind me of Hilary McKay's series of books featuring the children, all names after colors, in the Casson Family (see below for a more about the Cassons). What makes The Lotterys Plus One stand out on the shelf is the diversity (which never feels forced or intentional, but always organic to the story) that Donoghue packs into her wonderful book
The Lotterys Plus One begins, Once upon a time, a man from Dehli and a man from Yukon fell in love, and so did a woman from Jamaica and a Mohawk woman. The two couples became best friends and had a baby together. When they won the lottery, they gave up their jobs and found a big old house where their family could learn and grow . . . and grow some more. Seven kids, five pets, four parents and a house with thirty-two rooms make up this big family that is about to get bigger. All the Lottery children (the family takes this surname after good fortune befalls them) are named after trees. In fact, names and words, word play and, much to my extreme delight - kid's books (see the end of the review for the real books, and links to my reviews, that Donoghue mentions in this book), fill the pages of The Lotterys Plus One. Nine-year-old Sumac, the "keeper of the family stories," is the main character of this book (there are more Lottery books planned, no doubt focusing on different children) and explainer of the Lottery-isms that abound. There is the Mess (the kitchen), the Loud Lounge, the Hall of Mirrors (where inspirational and thoughtful quotes are shared) and Spare Oom (the guest room, named after Mr. Tumnus's mispronunciation of the place where Lucy said she came from in the Chronicles of Narnia). In fact, many of the place and people names in The Lotterys Plus One come from mishearing and mispronouncing. Parent meetings are called "Fleetings," the "Hoopla," is the former parking space in front of the house that is now a basketball court and a "peefdy," is a Personal Flotation Device. Sumac calls to mind Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events where the narrator is frequently stopping to define a word, prefacing it with, "Which here means..." The plus one the title refers to the aging father of PopCorn (PapaDum, MaxiMum and CardaMom are the clever names of the other parents) who comes to live at Camelottery (the name of the mansion) after setting fire to his house. In a nutshell, he a racist, homophobic, conservative who is dropped into a family of liberal thinking, earth conscious people of all cultures, orientations and abilities. Grumps is unhappy with the "if it's yellow, let it mellow" house rule, the strange names of the Lottery children, the kale and seed dishes, the eleven tattoos his son has, many of which bear the names of former boyfriends, and not being allowed to smoke inside. The family doesn't own a car and the parents, who homeschool the children (Sumac and Popcorn were about to embark on an expedition studying Sumeria at the start of the book, and she ends up studying on her own) often volunteer at childcare centers and serve on the committees and boards for charities they have donated to. Most interestingly diverse, and taking up quite a lot of page time, is the second youngest Lottery, four-year-old Brian, born Briar. She insists she is a boy and wears her blond hair shaved, although the narrator always refers to Brian as "she," throughout the novel. Perhaps this is to avoid confusion for readers, although Brian seems to be fluid about gender.Donoghue introduces this wonderful family and tells the story of Grumps's arrival and hopeful integration into their lives with rich creativity and almost over attention to details. There is much to take in in The Lotterys Plus One. Happily, we will be invited to visit this family again soon in the sequel (or second book in a series?) when The Lotterys More or Less comes out next year.
Books Sumac (and other Lotterys) are reading in The Lotterys Plus One and links to my reviews:Popularity Papers, Book 7 by Amy IgnatowThe Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald Cardboard by Doug Ten Napel. I have read, but not reviewed this particular book, but have reviewed two other graphic novels by this superb author/illustrator (Bad Island & Ghostopolis)From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. KonigsburgSource: Purchased audio & hardcover book
The Casson Family series and my review of book 1, Saffy's Angel: