CM . . .
. Volume XVIII Number 17. . . .January 6, 2012
Markham, ON: Red Deer Press/Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2011.
229 pp., pbk., $12.95.
Grades 8-10 / Ages 13-15.
Review by Ann Ketcheson.
It wasn't a long walk to my house but my mind was racing the whole while. I was both excited and confused. Sure, I'd just gone along for the ride tonight. I had the pretty girl, had the drinks, bribed our way into a club, sat back as the world watched us from afar as if we were celebrities, had the girl offer to have me stay the night. Who was writing this movie script? Whoever it was, I sure didn't want them to stop.
There were voices shouting inside my brain, telling me that I had arrived. It was all good. It was time to move forward. Take charge of my life. I was eighteen, not thirteen. Every part of that seemed exhilarating, but also somewhat frightening.
When I stopped at the big maple tree in front of my house and looked at the streetlight through the branches, I was feeling a confidence I had never felt before.
But by the time I quietly entered my old house and walked up the creaky stairs to my bedroom and heard my mother's voice, I lost every ounce of that confidence. She was standing in the doorway of her bedroom and had heard me come in, "Everything okay, Brandy?" She hadn't called me that since I was a kid.
"Yeah, Mom. It's all good.
"How was your date?"
"It was really nice," I said nonchalantly and then slipped into my room and fell into bed.
Brandon Dewolfe is an 18-year-old who seems happy just to cruise through his life. Failing a grade at school means he's a year older than his classmates. He doesn't have a job, a car, a girlfriend or any particular ambition. He just "is." Winning three million dollars in a lottery suddenly forces Brandon to take notice of his life and re-evaluate just about everything and everyone.
Choyce's main character makes various predictable moves after his big win. An infinite credit card allows him to go on several spending sprees for himself and his friends. In fact, he finds that overnight he has gone from being a non-entity to being the centre of attention. Girls at school suddenly notice him, and he gets e-mails from a variety of people who may just want a hot date with a rich guy or who may have a dog which desperately needs expensive veterinary care. Brandon quits school, convinced he will never need an education since he has no plans to ever take a job. Although these reactions are predictable for a rather immature teenager, Choyce puts readers on Brandon's side, hoping he won't do anything too crazy and understanding that he simply is unprepared to accept responsibility.
There are strong secondary characters in the novel. Kayla is Brandon's rather oddball, independent, tree-climbing friend who supports him as much as she can while making it clear she isn't happy with the new version of him. Taylor is the polar opposite, wealthy and popular. She is determined to coach Brandon so he can fit in with everyone who is "important" and take advantage of his new-found stardom. Taylor is more than happy to mold Brandon into her version of what he should be.
Adults in the book are also interesting. Brandon's parents seem only too happy to make use of his new-found wealth, buying a business and a new home while seemingly not understanding his emotional chaos and the difficult decisions he must make. Mr. Carver, the vice principal, provides an important sounding board and gives Brandon some good advice - if only he would act on it.
Choyce gives readers complex yet believable characters and a plot which provides tension. Will Brandon use his money productively, or will it ruin him? The plot evolves to a dramatic climax which forces Brandon to think about his priorities, but Choyce doesn't make the final outcome clear. He hints at Brandon's future but doesn't leave readers with a nicely wrapped package.
The themes of the novel will appeal to younger teens, and they appear to be the intended audience since the book is written in short chapters and at an easy reading level. Brandon struggles with popularity which he hasn't really earned and yet like most people, it is important to him to belong and fit in. Dumb Luck is a coming-of-age novel where a teen is forced -literally overnight - to deal with adult issues for which he is clearly unprepared. Like many teens, Brandon must sift through everything around him to determine who he really is and what his focus is in life.
Undoubtedly, many of us would love to win a lottery, but would more money truly enrich our lives while allowing us to still feel authentic? Would a major lottery win really be lucky? Through Brandon, Lesley Choyce asks this fundamental question which will both entertain and tantalize young adult readers.
Ann Ketcheson is a retired high school teacher-librarian and teacher of English and French who lives in Ottawa, ON.
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