Wednesday, January 9, 2013
I am Lucky Bird
By Fleur Philips
New Dawn Publishers 2011
273 p. YA
Lucky Bird is a girl in rural Montana. Although she was named Lucky by her grandmother, Marian, her life has been anything but lucky. She has been told that she was left on the doorstep of the village tavern as a newborn and raised by Marian and her daughter AnnMarie. Hence the name.
“Raised” is the operative word here, for like many children in dysfunctional situations, Lucky has raised herself. The story begins when she is about 12 and continues until she is about 19, married and a new mother. She narrates the story of her life, which is a life of loneliness, tragedy, and unspeakable abuse, both mental and physical. She survives but does not thrive until the very end of the novel, where her name “Lucky” comes into play once again.
I am Lucky Bird is a painful book to read because Lucky is an intelligent young woman who knows that her life is untenable but she does not have the emotional wherewithal to change her circumstances in a positive way. She is basically alone in the world, and even when she finds a best friend, the relationship disintegrates to exploitation once again, although her friend Rika is able to challenge and change her own life circumstances.
This is a novel about destiny. Lucky’s grandmother Marian is an alcoholic and physically and mentally abusive. Yet, in a lucid moment, she is able to impart to Lucky a philosophy of life. She says: “Every event that happens in life happens for a reason. Every person you meet, every tragedy that unfolds, every small bit of good that’s bestowed upon you. There’s a reason for it.” With a philosophy like that, it would be difficult to try to fight back when your life includes abuse and neglect.
In a blog interview, Philips discusses her take on destiny. “…by believing we have no control of our destiny—that we can only tweak it a bit in the choices we make about how we want to live our lives—I can draw some strength in knowing there’s a purpose to everything, even though we may never know what that purpose is….But in the real world, life is a set of dominoes, and I believe the path in which those dominoes fall is already predetermined. We just have to have faith in that path, even when one of our dominoes tumbles off the edge of the table.”
I know many people who believe in this philosophy of destiny—that there is very little that we can do to change our life’s path. And, for them, life is constantly spitting at them, letting them know that what they believe is true and sure enough, life sucks.
I wished that Lucky, whose mother AnnMarie was a voracious reader, could have read the brilliant literary novel, Once Upon a River by Bonnie Jo Campbell, in which Margo, a young rural Michigan girl raised in similar circumstances, has the ability to determine her own destiny as she find a way to navigate the world. Lucky and Margo have much in common except for spunk and resourcefulness. They could have been friends and Margo could have helped Lucky find the way to a productive life sooner.
I am Lucky Bird is Philip’s first novel. It is skillfully constructed and compelling, even as the protagonist as well as the reader has no control of the devastating circumstances. Some of the descriptions are much too graphic for the younger age range of YA readers; older teenagers can understand and empathize with Lucky and her life situation. I really liked some of the imagery, including the use of birds and their freedom. I think that Philips has a future as a YA book writer, but I would also hope that in future books she can lighten up a little bit. There are many ways to explore the concept of destiny.
Fleur Philip’s website: http://www.fleurphilips.com/