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The Lotterys Plus One: 11/21/17

The Lotterys Plus One by Emma Donoghue

The Lotterys Plus One by Emma Donoghue is a Canadian middle grade fiction story about blended families, family acceptance, and dementia. It's told from the point of view of Sumac, a nine year old girl who has to give up her perfect first story floor bedroom to PopCorn's Dad, whom she nicknames Grumps because he is racist and homophobic and is now living in a home with two dads, two moms, and large family of multi-ethnic kids, some biological and some adopted.

Mostly the book is about adapting to Grumps arrival and trying to help him feel welcome even though he clearly doesn't want to be there and it's also clear that a big chunk of the family doesn't want him there either. Grumps has lived his entire life in Faro, Yukon. Toronto is something entirely different, alien, and scary for him.

Readers seem to either love or hate this book for two reasons: the gimmicky family and the mis-gendering of Brian — the second to the youngest of the children. Despite my initial misgivings about the childrens' and parents' nicknames for each other, as well as their family lingo, Sumac's clearly crafted character and voice won me over. There are enough hints at a bigger story in the adult conversation that she overhears to clue in older readers but not so much to overwhelm younger ones.

The one odd detail in this book is Brian who has opted to have a buzz cut, wears boys clothing, and wishes to not be confused for anything other than a boy. Yet, Sumac always uses she for this sibling. Brian also doesn't fit the botanical name theme that most of the other children have going — and that oddity is explained by dead-naming Brian midway through the book.

I've decided not to count the misgendering of the Brian against the book as a whole for a few reasons.

First, Brian isn't all that well established as a character (nor are really any of the other children). Mostly this book is about Sumac, PopCorn, and Grumps with the other Lotterys being part of the background noise of the immediate problem at hand (losing one's room to a family member who doesn't even want to be there).

Second, the misgendering makes otherwise perfect Sumac a little less so. She is a self styled perfect child, always wanting to please but her actions show that she does harbor some resentment and isn't as open minded as she may think she is.

Finally, there just aren't that many books about unconventional families, beyond a few now that include two same sex parents. As I happen to know of a few families like Sumacs — though not to the scale of hers, it was refreshing to see some fictional representation.

Five stars

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