Amargosa Valley Library in rural Nevada.
It was also the month that The Higher Power of Lucky, by Susan Patron, won the Newbery. Patron wasn't exactly an unknown in the publishing world -- she'd written the text for several picture books, as well as a middle-grade novel called Maybe Yes, Maybe No, Maybe Maybe -- but all of those titles dated back to the early 1990s. Lucky, however, served as a reintroduction for Patron, and she would later follow it with a pair of sequels.
Those two events are connected in my head. Partly, this is because the first "library scandal" I can remember centered around Lucky's use of the word "scrotum," which had the kinds of people who clutch pearls about children's books clutching some serious pearls. And partly it's because Amargosa Valley is just over the Nevada border from Lucky's California desert setting; the book's descriptions of massive dust storms, creosote bushes, and hard-baked dirt always bring me back to that time in my life.
In terms of plot, Lucky hits a lot of the Archetypal Newbery Book points. The protagonist, Lucky Trimble, is a motherless girl (check), with an absent father (check). She lives in a small town (check), which is populated by a cast of quirky characters (check). As she stands at the edge of adolescence (check) events occur that will help her to process her long-standing trauma (check). This is a familiar template; the question is, how well does Lucky execute the prescribed twists and turns of the narrative?
The answer is...pretty well! I wouldn't say that it's the best of its type on the Newbery rolls -- it doesn't quite have the emotional heft of, say, Missing May -- but it's a solid effort. Lucky's main concern, that her guardian, Brigitte, will leave her and return to France, feels genuine, and the novel does a good job of weaving together its themes and imagery. This is true even though some of them, such as Lucky's interest in the language and affirmations of 12-step programs, are unusual for a middle-grade book.
If you're not inclined to like this kind of novel, The Higher Power of Lucky may not be the one that changes your mind -- the quirky characters aren't quite The Lost Boy's Gift-level caricatures, but some of them are painted with broad strokes, and the ending is a theatrical set piece that realism-minded readers may struggle with. But, both when I read Lucky shortly after it won the Newbery, and when I reread it again a decade and a half later, I felt like it succeeds at the task it lays out for itself.
I don't know that The Higher Power of Lucky would win again if we re-selected the 2007 Newbery. Any of the three Honor books could easily have won (Penny from Heaven, by Jennifer L. Holm, Hattie Big Sky, by Kirby Larson, and Rules, by Cynthia Lord), and the committee didn't even have space for Sara Pennypacker's Clementine or Laura Amy Schlitz's A Drowned Maiden's Hair. It was a competitive year. But I think Lucky was perfectly reasonable choice, even if its appeal is somewhat narrow.