Middle Grade Monday: The Lucky Ones, by Linda Williams Jackson

It's been a long time since I had a middle-grade review, but I finally picked up a couple of audio books at the library and jumped back in.

 Title details for The Lucky Ones by Linda Williams Jackson - Available

Linda Williams Jackson, narrated by Reginald James
Publication Info:

Publisher's Blurb:
Award-winning author Linda Williams Jackson pulls from her own childhood in the Mississippi Delta to tell the story of Ellis Earl, who dreams of a real house, food enough for the whole family—and to be someone.

It’s 1967, and eleven-year-old Ellis Earl Brown has big dreams. He’s going to grow up to be a teacher or a lawyer—or maybe both—and live in a big brick house in town. There’ll always be enough food in the icebox, and his mama won’t have to run herself ragged looking for work as a maid in order to support Ellis Earl and his eight siblings and niece, Vera. So Ellis Earl applies himself at school, soaking up the lessons that Mr. Foster teaches his class—particularly those about famous colored people like Mr. Thurgood Marshall and Miss Marian Wright—and borrowing books from his teacher’s bookshelf. When Mr. Foster presents him with a copy of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Ellis Earl is amazed to encounter a family that’s even worse off than his own—and is delighted by the Buckets’ very happy ending. But when Mama tells Ellis Earl that he might need to quit school to help support the family, he wonders if happy endings are only possible in storybooks. Around the historical touchstone of Robert Kennedy’s southern “poverty tour,” Linda Williams Jackson pulls from her own childhood in the Mississippi Delta to tell a detail-rich and poignant story with memorable characters, sure to resonate with listeners who have ever felt constricted by their circumstances.

My Review:
I enjoyed this historical fiction set in a period where the Civil Rights era is just starting to trickle into the Mississippi Delta. The main character is likable and human--he's a smart kid who struggles with some aspects of school and is forced to face his own weaknesses and failings. I like that he does end up looking himself in the face, as it were, and admitting his wrongs. I also like that he manages to make some things work out better than you'd expect.

This is a case where I may give the story and the narrator very different grades. I wish I had taken the Kindle, not the audio, on this one, because I found Mr. James's narration a distraction, at best. He had the Delta accents down beautifully (as far as I can tell), but spoke with an odd hesitancy which in some ways does fit Ellis Earl, but to me felt like it sort of flattened the story--he sounded at times like he was reading a report, not a story.

My Recommendation:
 A worthwhile read for kids from about 9 up--the nastiest aspects of the racism in the time and place are glossed over enough to make it suitable for younger readers, and the positive, upbeat ending leaves a good feeling that discerning readers will realize doesn't mean there are no problems left.

FTC Disclosure: I borrowed an electronic copy of The Lucky Ones from my library, and received nothing from the author or the publisher in exchange for my honest review. The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”   

 ©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2023
 As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated.

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