Unlucky Stars? Depends on Your View…

by | Jan 3, 2024

The flap copy of Gillian McDunn’s latest, “These Unlucky Stars,” intrigued me because the main character didn’t feel like she fit in with the rest of her family, but I didn’t expect to be sucked in so quickly. 

The story starts like this:

“You can measure how lucky someone is by asking them whether they believe in it. Lucky people say, ‘There’s no such thing.’ To them, the universe is orderly and kind. Hard work always leads to happiness…The truth is, sometimes people try hard, but things don’t go their way. Ma used to see that about me. I may mess up, but I’m always trying. ‘Unlucky Annie,’ she’d whisper, gathering the pieces of the green glass lamp.”

That first page was enough to make me want to know more.

The main character, Annie Logan, lives with her father and her brother, Ray, in the small town of Oak Branch, NC. Annie and Ray’s mom left when Annie was four years old. That, and the fact that she is unlucky, are the central facts of Annie’s life when the story begins.

Annie feels left out. Ray and her dad are similar in their mind sets and their interests (exercising, building things, running the family hardware store), while Annie loves art and carries her sketchpad with her everywhere and is a little reckless and accident prone (ie unlucky). 

Things really get interesting when Gloria Crumb and her dog, Otto, show up on the page. I love a multi-layered older person and, while it’s not the first middle-grade book I’ve read recently with older characters, Gloria (“call me Gloria or nothing at all”) is one of my favorites. Gloria is prickly, opinionated and not interested in being polite. Plus her dog, Otto, is terrifying and also ugly, with eyes pointing opposite directions and so many teeth they stick out every which way.

After Gloria falls and breaks her arm, Annie accidently agrees to visit Gloria every day. She makes Gloria sweet tea, she sorts through boxes that are scattered throughout the house and are tripping hazards, she clears the back yard of Otto’s poops and she helps tidy the outside of the house. 

Granted, Gloria is short tempered, she gets confused and forgetful, but she also is pretty funny, calling a cell phone a hand phone, roller coasters “coasty rollers” and saying “Pish!” when she disagrees with something. In the course of sorting through the boxes, Annie discovers that Gloria helped raise her six siblings, traveled the world as a flight attendant and was a roller disco queen. 

“These Unlucky Stars” is one of many stories for young readers that show intergenerational friendships. If I had read stories like this as a young reader, I think older people would have intrigued me instead of intimidate me.  

Meanwhile, the town of Oak Branch decides to hold a Rosy Maple moth festival to try and draw visitors who are currently being attracted to their larger, flashier neighbor, Mountain Ring. The Rosy Maple moth, which I had never heard of, is a little moth that is bright yellow and pink. It’s a real moth but the colors make it look like candy. 

Building floats for the Rosy Maple moth festival bring out Annie’s creative juices and she jumps from float to float, helping each group with equal zeal. Annie starts to realize that, far from having no friends and being an outcast, she is right in the middle of the action.

“These Unlucky Stars” is ultimately about re-framing. Thinking she was unlucky kept Annie from seeing that life is more complicated than that.  Everyone’s life is full of ups and downs, but how you view and interpret all that is what matters. You can’t change what happens to you, but you can change how you think about it. I think this is a great message for young and older readers alike.

This review was previously published in the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette

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