It's 1917, rural Alabama, and the locals have just gathered by the train station to welcome a new postmaster to their town. Needless to say, they're shocked when they see an African-American family step off the train. "Surely the new postmaster would be white," they all thought. Regardless, twelve-year-olds Dit and Emma slowly become friends. Emma is the Boston-educated and refined only child of the town's new black postmaster while Dit is the adventurous middle child from a white family of ten children. Initially they have very little in common, but they soon form a strong friendship that pushes both to reconsider their previous notions about race. After the town's black barber is unfairly convicted of the self-defense shooting of a white man, Dit and Emma design a perilous plan to stop the barber from being hanged.
Without being disturbingly graphic, The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had paints a picture for kids about race, friendship, ignorance, consequence, and acceptance. While we are all romantically connected to classics like To Kill A Mockingbird and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, this more modern book has its place in both English and History classrooms today. Author Kristin Levine channels both Mark Twain and Harper Lee into something that is, arguably, more readable for present day youth. It is not a book that sugar coats reality, nor does it condescend to its reader. With short, well-paced chapters that trot right along, most kids from 9-13 (and adults) will enjoy this compelling historical fiction that harkens back to the classics, re-telling the very American tale of growing up in a tumultuous time.
Each year the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) compiles a list of significant young adult books that deserve some attention. This was a great one from 2010's list.
Recommended by Matthew Lowder