The Lotterys Plus One
Scholastic, 2017 303 pages
"Once upon a time, a man from Delhi 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." So begins this first children's novel from Donoghue (The Room). We experience life within this non-traditional and loving family through the eyes of nine-year-old Sumac (all of the children are named after trees), who ,at number five of seven in birth order, is the practical one of the kids. All of this changes when she and one of the dads, PopCorn, go to Yukon to retrieve a previously unknown grandfather because he is showing signs of dementia. In proper Lottery fashion the family gives him a kookie nickname and "grumps" is ensconced in Sumac's room and she is regulated to the attic. Grumps hates it in the Lottery's household. It is too noisy, too "hippy", and the food is weird and organic. Moreover, he doesn't understand why the children are home schooled, disapproves of the romantic pairings of the parents, and has out-moded and seemingly prejudice views on race and other cultures. Sumac concocts a plan to send Grumps to a nursing home, where she thinks both he and the rest of the family will be happier. An accident finally seems to convince her parents that maybe Sumac is right, but she has not told the whole truth about the incident. Will she do the right thing or keep her mouth shut in order to extricate the miserable new grandpa?
This book is a breath of fresh air and a wonderful celebration of diversity and non-traditional families. Readers will be so entranced by the madcap fun and healthy and stimulating lifestyle enjoyed by the Lotterys that they will wish they could move into Camelottery as well, even if it mean bunking down with Grumps. The children are all a mix of different racial identities and although some are biological and some are adopted, they are all loved and treated equally. This book reminds me of a Canadian version of Surviving the Applewhites, which is another story of a creative, homeschooled family as told by the practical middle child. Although both share a humorous style, The Lotteries adds the element of breaking down racial and sexual stereotypes. I read this book by listening to the audio, which was great because this book makes an entertaining read-aloud. The problem with the audio was that I kept getting the members of this large family confused in the beginning. The actual book solves this problem by offering a picture of the family helpfully labeling its members. The book is also enhanced with illustrations by Caroline Hadilaksono, which greatly adds to the exuberance of this eccentric bunch. Its fun to see a crazy situation through a straight-man and Grumps proves the perfect foil. He adds conflict to this gentle story and allows for the characters to grow around the adjustment to his presence. Children of non-traditional families, homeschoolers, and bi-racial kids will all find something to identify with here. Traditional children will be exposed to a different way of doing things, which can help them to better understand their neighbors. All children will relate to the struggle of adjusting to change, which can be very scary and unsettling. Moreover, this story is simply a lot of fun!