This past weekend, I finished Lucky Breaks (having borrowed an ARC from Christy MacDanold) and my happiness glands and sadness glands are both still pumping. Sequels are generally to be approached with trepidation but not in this case. Susan Patron has delivered a story that I think sings even more beautifully than The Higher Power of Lucky. Don’t get me wrong: I adored that book (so much so, in fact, that I didn’t even register “the word” on page 1 in first reading). Susan tells the stories of the hardscrabble folks of Hardpan with tenderness and warmth. But Lucky Breaks had me sitting at the table with them rather than peeking in through trailer windows. Our intrepid heroine is turning 11 and we are right there with her, re-experiencing that preteen angst through Patron’s capable, clear-sighted and caring hands. Until new character, Paloma, pops into view we never knew that she was absolutely what Lucky was longing for: a best girfriend. What else does one need on the verge of turning 11?

The opening riff on turning 11 was absolutely lyrical; reminscent of Sandra Cisneros’ amazing take on turning 10 (I think you’ll find that in The House on Mango Street). From early on, I knew the implacable and adorable Lincoln was tying a hammock with all of his amazing knots but Susan Patron brilliantly makes this hammock more than a showcase for Lincoln’s knot-tying skills. You will have to read the book to find out how she pulls this off.

Lucky does some incredibly mean-spirited things in this book. She does some incredibly dumb and dangerous things in this book. And we love her every step of the way because we, too, have been cruel beyond words to faithful friends. We, too, have put ourselves in untenable situations. Like Lucky, we, too, have experienced the grace of true friends and unconditional love.

This is more than a book. It is a gift. A lovely, simple and eloquent tribute to finding one’s way through life, using the heart as a compass.