Most of the recently published material that I read comes from the library and, at least right now, I haven’t been making as many library trips as I used to. This has afforded me the opportunity to revisit some of my favorite books from the past that reside on bookshelves at home. One rediscovered treasure is The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had by Kristin Levine, which was published in 2009. Oddly enough, this book takes place in Alabama from the summer of 1917 through the summer of 1918, including one short portion of the Flu Pandemic to which our current coronavirus crisis is being compared. That, however, is not the main focus of Levine’s story.
Levine is no stranger to tackling social issues. Her book The Lions of Little Rock addressed segregated schools in 1958. The Paper Cowboy is about the McCarthy era. In The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had, Levine brings readers to rural Alabama where race relations are rarely discussed, but always weigh heavily on the shoulders of those in the Black community. The story is told in the voice of our protagonist, Dit, who is excited to meet the family of the town’s new postmaster who will be renting the cabin on Dit’s family’s farm. There is supposed to be a boy in this family, 12 years old just like Dit. But when the family gets off the train, not only is the 12 year old boy a girl, but the family is also Black.
Dit tries to ignore Emma. Why would he want to be her friend? She can’t play baseball, all she does is read, and his friends will make fun of him if he spends time with a girl, let alone a girl who is not white. It isn’t until Dit throws a baseball through the new teacher’s window (by accident) and is spotted by Emma, that their friendship begins. If Dit will teach Emma to play baseball, she won’t tell on him. She quickly becomes the best friend he has ever had and this makes Dit question a lot of the things that he has simply accepted as true in regards to race.
Dit and Emma are definitely the central characters in this story, but Levine makes each person stand out. There are a few characters who we can tell immediately are kind and just people, who do not judge others based on the color of their skin. There is another who we know to be the villain as soon as he is introduced, because he is cruel and because of the language that he uses (a racial epithet beginning with ‘n’ is used a few times throughout the book as are terms describing African Americans that are not appropriate today). However, some of the most interesting characters are the ones who we cannot instantly label as right or wrong.
So often, we teach the history of the United States so that it can be analyzed on a multiple choice test. As if there is one right answer to every question. Our history is much more nuanced than that. Even the name chosen for the country in 1776 — United States of America– is deceiving. Many people within the United States in 1776 were not united. There were divisions of class, race, ethnicity, religion, gender, and citizenship. In 2020, there still are.
In this time of both mental and physical division, a book like The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had is a testament to what happens when we come together. When we are forced to reckon with our pasts and plan for a brighter future. We have had moments like this before in our history and we have often fallen short. However, progress has been made and can be made again. If we work together.
Diversity 10: I know that the way groups of people are treated today, and the way they have been treated in the past, is a part of what makes them who they are.
Justice 11: I try and get to know people as individuals because I know it is unfair to think all people in a shared identity group are the same.
Justice 12: I know when people are treated unfairly, and I can give examples of prejudice words, pictures and rules.
Justice 13: I know that words, behaviors, rules and laws that treat people unfairly based on their group identities cause real harm.
Justice 14: I know that life is easier for some people and harder for others based on who they are and where they were born.
RL.1- Quote accurately from a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.
RL.2- Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text, including how characters in a story or drama respond to challenges or how the speaker in a poem reflects upon a topic; summarize the text.
RL.3- Compare and contrast two or more characters, settings, or events in a story or drama, drawing on specific details in the text (e.g., how characters interact).
RL.5 – Explain how a series of chapters, scenes, or stanzas fits together to provide the overall structure of a particular story, drama, or poem.
RL.6- Describe how a narrator’s or speaker’s point of view influences how events are described.