The Lotterys Plus One by Emma Donoghue, illustrated by Caroline Hadilaksono [in Shelf Awareness]
Sixteen years ago, a pregnant woman walking the hospital halls found a lottery ticket on the floor. The ticket proved quite the winner, enabling the new mother – and her three co-parents – to “buy a big house to fill with lots more kids, and do interesting stuff with [them] all day instead of going to work.” Six more children later, the self-named Lotterys live an idyllic life in the 32-room Victorian home in Toronto they call Camelottery.
Sprawled across spaces fondly dubbed the Mess (kitchen), the Derriere (back porch), and the Loud Lounge, 11 humans and their furred and feathered companions reside. The two moms-in-love are the Jamaican MaxiMum (the former-ambulating mother-to-be) and CardaMom, a Mohawk woman. The two dads are Delhi-born PapaDum and his other half, PopCorn, who hails from far-north Yukon. Their kids, mostly named after trees, range in age from almost 2 to 16: baby Oak, Brian (formerly Briar), Sumac, Aspen, Wood (short for Redwood), Catalpa, and Sic the “Firstborn” (S-i-c, as in “‘a special word you put in square brackets after something that looks nuts, to tell readers you really did mean it that way’”).
Indeed, the Lotterys really mean it this way… at least until their little utopia takes in PopCorn’s estranged 82-year-old Scottish father after a fire damages his Yukon home. Suffering from dementia, he’s not safe living on his own, so “for the moment” he’ll be staying at Camelottery. Acerbic, bewildered, and cranky, he quickly earns the nickname “Grumps.” Unfiltered Grumps grumbles at their “weirdy commune” and makes clear that he doesn’t like the family’s food, the family’s rules, maybe even the family itself. “‘We’re a raggle-taggle, multiculti crew,'” Sic notes. “‘Grumps was raised on racism, homophobia, all that jazz.’”
As “the keeper of the family stories,” 9-year-old Sumac – the adopted fifth Lottery child, of Filipino/German ancestry – is also the beating heart of this story. She’s the most put-out – literally – when Grumps’s need for a first-floor bedroom means she gets relegated to the dusty top floor, the spider-filled “Spare Oom.” Sumac tries hard to live up to her reputation as a “mature, helpful, rational being,” but wonders if she’s “the most bad-tempered, unwelcoming Lottery? Or is she the miner’s canary – the first to notice how this old man’s wrecking everything?” Somehow, Sumac must figure out how to prevent the fall of Camelottery – and quickly!
Irish-born, Canadian-domiciled author Emma Donoghue (Room; Astray; Frog Music; The Wonder) makes her middle-grade debut in the first of what could and should be a long-running series; a sequel, The Lotterys More or Less, is forthcoming. As unique and ideal as the Lotterys may seem, Donoghue adds realistic challenges and convincing solutions into their lives with wit, wisdom, and charm. Indonesian-born, New York-residing artist Caroline Hadilaksono adds further multi-culti whimsy throughout. In words and in pictures, they capture a family learning to accommodate growing pains, as “plus one” eventually develops into a full, well-balanced dozen.
Shelf Talker: Bestselling adult author Emma Donoghue (Room) makes her middle-grade debut with this warm, witty story of a sprawling, multi-culti, four-parent family that takes in an estranged, grumpy grandfather.
Readers: Middle Grade