Plucky, intelligent young girls are hardly a new concept for juvenile literature. We've got our May Amelias, our Anne Shirleys, our Hermione Grangers. So it's hard to write a character like that and make her someone new, someone exciting. This is partially where I felt disappointed with last year's Newbery winner, Moon Over Manifest. Abilene Tucker didn't strike me as someone new or exciting at all. In fact, I felt I'd met characters like her a dozen times over, and it hurt my enjoyment of the book. So taking this into account, I approached Anne Ylvisaker's The Luck of the Buttons with some trepidation. What would this book offer me that others haven't? Would Ylvisaker be able to give me a character that was both original and interesting?
Tugs Button comes from a long line of the unlucky. So unlucky, in fact, the family has a pie-eating coping mechanism. So when lucky things begin to happen to Tugs, like getting invited to a birthday party and winning a raffle, the family doesn't quite know what to do with her. Luckily, Tugs always knows just what to do with herself. She takes her raffle prize, a camera, a Kodak No. 2 Brownie F model, and is determined to make the most of it. Meanwhile, there's a shady character in town, and Tugs seems to be the only one in town who isn't under his spell. Her quick thinking and investigative work just might be in time to save the day, and the town.
It turns out that Tugs Button was exactly the kind of character that I needed, and Ylvisaker did have something new and exciting between her pages. There are shades of other girls we've known and loved (especially fellow tomboy May Amelia), but Tugs is someone interesting on her own merit. The element of luck, her newfound talent for it and her family's lack of it, lends an unexpected element to the proceedings. I loved reading about how the family prepares pies for various misfortunes, and how Tugs finally loses her patience with the brooding, complaining family and speaks her mind. Tugs desire for friendship with the well-to-do Aggie and the girly, cliquey "Mary" girls is something we can all understand, as is her decision not to be "hemmed in by a dress", especially when there are much more exciting goings on.
I didn't love The Luck of the Buttons, but I did enjoy it. It left me feeling pleased I had taken the time to read it, and eager to read more, which is always a good sign. Whether Ylvisaker chooses to continue the adventures of the irrepresible Tugs or branch out with other characters and stories, I'll be anxious to see what she has in store for us.
The Luck of the Buttons by Anne Ylvisaker
2011, Candlewick Press