________________ CM . . . . Volume XXIII Number 21 . . . . February 10, 2017


The Lotterys Plus One.

Emma Donoghue. Illustrated by Caroline Hadilaksono.
Toronto, ON: HarperCollins, March, 2017.
305 pp., hardcover, $19.99.
ISBN 978-1-44344-557-3.

Grades 3-7 / Ages 8-12.

Review by Rob Bittner.

***½ /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.



Once upon a time, a man from Delhi and a man from Yukon fell in love, and so did a woman from Jamaica and a Mohawk woman. The two couples became best friends and had a baby together. When they won the lottery, they gave up their jobs and found a big old house where their family could learn and grow … and grown some more.

Now Sumac Lottery (age nine) is the fifth of seven kids, all named after trees. With their four parents and five pets, they fit perfectly in the Toronto home they call Camelottery. But the one thing in life that never changes … is that sooner or later things change.

The Lotterys Plus One is a delightful and complex slice-of-life narrative following the antics of the Lotterys as they struggle to adapt to a new life that includes a rather ornery new grandfather who has never really wanted to be a part of their lives. When PopCorn (one of Sumac's fathers) receives a phone call one day and has to make an emergency trip to Yukon to visit his father, Sumac sees it as a chance for a new adventure and a way to spend more time with PopCorn. She certainly did not expect to come face to face with such a grumpy old man, let alone imagine that she'd have to give up her room so that he could stay with them for an extended period of time. As the family slowly adapts to an additional—and not so cooperative—person in the house, they all start to learn what it means to be compassionate and loving in the midst of hardship.

      Though the novel is about the entire family, the narrative is mostly focused on Sumac as she is the one who is most concerned about the impact that Grumps (as the family has dubbed the new grandpa) is having on their way of life: he is hard-headed, he is in denial about his condition, and he's got some very outdated views on race, gender, and sexuality. Grumps is none too pleased that his son has married another man, and he is abrasive whenever the subject of same-sex couples comes up. At one point, he even calls MaxiMum (the mother from Jamaica) and PapaDum (the father from Delhi) "colored" during a conversation, which gives Donoghue the opportunity to actually address racism and its relation to history and culture. The conversation also opens up a space for dialogue about same-sex marriage. PopCorn tells Sumac, "He prefers things how they were, or at least how they seemed to be when he was eight instead of eighty-two."

      Perhaps the most complex part of the novel, aside from the emotionally poignant family dynamics, is the sheer number of characters: four parents, seven children, and five pets. As each of them has a unique name, there is opportunity to get mixed up between children and pets and vice versa. I also see the potential for some confusion for younger readers in terms of the young child, Brian, who refuses to be called a girl but is also okay with being called "her" or "she." The fluid gender representation is, in my mind, a wonderful opportunity for Donoghue to discuss gender dynamics in a book for young readers in a way that is separated from sexuality, something which is really only discussed in relation to the parents.

      The Lotterys Plus One is funny, emotional, and filled with quirky uses of language, nicknames, and puns. From the descriptions of each section of the house to the ways in which each of the family members talks about everyday objects and terms (Brian saying, "egg salad" instead of "excellent" for example) makes the book a unique space to discuss evolving language and enjoy the humour that is so often a part of childhood development. The Lotterys Plus One is a big, boisterous book with a lot of heart that speaks to the possibility and necessity of seeing diversity in stories. I think it's safe to say that readers young and old will not see family in quite the same way after reading about the Lotterys (plus one).

Highly Recommended.

Rob Bittner has a PhD in Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies (SFU), and is also a graduate of the MA in Children's Literature program at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC. He loves reading a wide range of literature but particularly stories with diverse depictions of gender and sexuality.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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