Review: The Lucky Kind

The Lucky Kind by Alyssa B. Sheinmel. Knopf, an imprint of Random House. 2011. Review copy from publisher.

The Plot: Nick Brandt, 16, doesn’t know that answering the phone will shake up his world. A strange man asks for “Sheffman Brandt,” knowing Nick’s father’s name but not knowing he goes by Rob, his middle name. A stranger, whose call upsets the tight, close world of Nick and his parents. The man calling is Sam Roth. As Rob Brandt later explains to Nick, thirty years ago Rob had a son who was given up for adoption. Sam is that child.

His father had a child, a child given up for adoption, and Nick never knew. His parents never told him.

The Good: Like last year’s The Beautiful Between, The Lucky Kind is a wonderfully quiet book. The plot above sounds way too “ripped from the headlines,” and The Lucky Kind is the opposite of that. It’s a look at Nick and his family and friends over several months, as Nick adjusts to the knowledge of his father’s past and the secrecy surrounding it.

Nick’s life up until that point was charmed — lucky, even. He has a wonderful family (put Rob and Nina down in the “pretty great parents in a YA book” category), he lives in a nice apartment in Manhattan (average by Manhattan standards, not richy rich), he has a great best friend, Stevie, and a girl, Eden Reiss, who he’s been crushing on for years. Seriously, any reader would want to have Nick’s life. The phone call from Sam Roth shatters all that — but only in Nick’s head, because it shatters how Nick sees his life and those around him. Sam and his existence represent numerous betrayals and secrets: that his father had another child. That his father gave that child up for adoption. That his father put his name on a registry indicating he would want contact with that child, should the child wish. That his father and mother both knew all this, and never told Nick.

What does Nick do? And here is one of the reasons I adore this book, and Sheinmel’s writing and choices. This is not “and then the disillusioned teen drugged, drank, and violently acted out in all sorts of gritty ways.” No! This is much more true to life, much more real. One of the first things Nick does? Nick finally gets the nerve up to call Eden Reiss on the telephone. Yes. That is the first thing. Nick and Eden begin dating. He loves her. Here is Nick, when he knows he will be kissing Eden for the first time: “I walk Eden to the subway, and the whole walk there, I know I’m going to kiss her good-bye, and I know she’s going to kiss me back. I feel the kiss coming up from my stomach, as though that’s where every kiss originates, waiting in your belly, growing stronger as it climbs up your rib cage, fluttering a bit when it passes your heart, and waiting, patiently in your throat, until you tilt your head and move your lips, and it knows it’s time to come out from inside you.” You can practically hear the giddiness and joy in his voice the first time he calls Eden “my girlfriend.”

Over the next few months, Nick’s acts of rebellion are so subtle that I dare not call it rebellion, yet so significant that I have to call it something. Nick reacts by beginning to distance himself emotionally from his parents. It would be easy to want to create a physical acting out on behalf of Nick, to dramatize that acting out, but Sheinmel doesn’t take the easy way out. Instead, she does it by showing the conversations that don’t happen. For example, Eden? The amazing Eden who has made Nick so happy? Who Nick truly cares about? Nick doesn’t tell his parents about her. He doesn’t do it on purpose; and he tells himself it’s because he wants to keep it just the two of them, Eden and Nick. The reader, though, will realize that Nick has decided to keep a secret from his parents just like his parents kept a secret from him.

Nick’s struggles with the change in his family, or, rather, with his having to adjust to new information about his family, impact those around him. Part of the joy of The Lucky Kind is that because Nick has family and friends who are loving and supportive, they are able to give him what he needs during these months. No, they aren’t perfect; it is better than that, in that they are understanding and forgiving. Nick’s growth and coming of age is about how he, too, becomes understanding and forgiving. How he, too, earns the right to be one of “the lucky kind,” and learns that being “the lucky kind” isn’t about what one is given but rather what happens because of the choices one makes.

Because this is a book that rang so true. Because I love Nick and his family. Because Nick and Eden are a terrific couple. Because I felt as if I slipped into Nick’s life for a few months. Because the writing is so true and pure and strong. The Lucky Kind is one of my Favorite Books Read in 2011. 

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