Yes, I know my last Top Book of 2017 pick was only last week, but today’s book completely earns the badge by being utterly original and beguiling and packed with such diversity it would make a conservative Christian’s head explode.
That got you interested, didn’t it?
We received The Lotterys Plus One by Emma Donoghue (author of adult novels Room and The Wonder amongst others) from PanMacmillan Australia for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:
Meet the Lotterys: a unique and diverse family featuring four parents, seven kids and five pets – all living happily together in their big old house, Camelottery. Nine-year-old Sumac is the organizer of the family and is looking forward to a long summer of fun.
But when their grumpy and intolerant grandad comes to stay, everything is turned upside down.How will Sumac and her family manage with another person to add to their hectic lives?
Internationally bestselling author Emma Donoghue’s first novel for children, with black-and-white illustrations throughout, is funny, charming and full of heart.
Although I have bestowed a TBo2017 title upon this tome, I will admit that it took me a chapter or two to get my bearings within this unconventional family. Sumac is the middle child (ish) of seven. She has two fathers – PopCorn and PapaDum – who are a committed couple. She also has two mothers – MaxiMum and CardaMum – who are similarly in a committed relationship. All four adults co-parent the brood of children who comprise biological children (of various of the parents) and adopted children, of which Sumac is one. The cultural backgrounds of the family members include Indigenous Canadian, African, Indian, Caucasian and Filippina. The family live in a century-old house and are home schooled because the parents had the good fortune of winning the lottery – hence the family’s surname (The Lotterys) and the name of their dwelling (Camelottery).
You may be getting a bit of an idea by now as to why this book may not appeal to readers of a more conservative political bent.
The first thing you will have to get used to in this unusual book is that everything has a nickname. As well as the parents’ nicknames, the children are all named after trees (and then their names are often shortened), and every room in their house has a punny name of its own. Even the unsuspecting grandfather who is drawn into the organised chaos is given a fitting nickname – Grumps. Because we are dumped straight into the fray from the first chapter, it was a little disorienting trying to sort everyone out into their proper place in the family, although this did turn out to be a good narrative device to demonstrate the busy nature of the family’s life.
Essentially, this is a book about a family dealing with an unexpected new arrival and having to work together to restore equilibrium to all their lives. When PopCorn’s father, who is estranged from his son, develops dementia and is deemed unable to live on his own, he is taken in by the Lotterys, despite his obvious dislike of pretty much everything to do with the place – his son’s decision to partner with a man, the multicultural mix of residents, the fact that one of the children prefers to be addressed as a boy even though she’s a girl, the pet rat, the “exotic” food, ad infinitum. The story develops through Sumac’s eyes as she tries her hardest to be the helpful and logical child that she thinks her parents expect her to be.
Sumac is a delightful narrator. Through her experience the reader really feels what it must be like for a child who loves her family and its quirks yet is consumed by annoyance and, at times, downright anger that this interloper, her grandfather, has the power to unravel the wall of familial protection that Sumac has built around herself. The siblings of the dwelling are well written, each with his or her own personality and a healthy dose of sibling rivalry and antagonism which stops the story from descending into an unrealistic depiction of siblings of various ages living together. After a few eye-rolls related to (a) my jealousy of the luck of the parents in winning the lottery and living the dream and (b) some of the hipster antics that they get up to, I appreciated the difficulties experienced by the adults as they try to negotiate their responsibilities toward a family member who is making life difficult for everyone in the dwelling.
The original setting and the unique family unit in The Lotterys Plus One slowly drew me in and won me over and I found myself eager to get back to the story every evening before sleep. I expected this book to be a stand alone, so complicated was the set-up of the family situation, so I was pleasantly surprised to see that a sequel is already planned and titled (The Lotterys More or Less).
If you want to be surprised, challenged, confused, bemused and amused by a children’s book, I can’t do better than recommend The Lotterys Plus One to you.
Until next time,