By Shathi Sekaran
Lucky Boy is about Soli, an 18-year-old Mexican girl from rural Oaxaca who wants to go to the U.S. to live with her cousin there – and lands there weeks later, pregnant. Kavya Reddy is a chef a Berkeley sorority house who wants a child, but can’t conceive one. Kavya and her husband, Rishi, choose to foster a child, and end up with Soli’s infant son after she’s detained.
I don’t want to give too many details. See, this book is very difficult for me to even write about, because it’s an incredibly frustrating book. You spend a good portion of the book thinking, “Author, you have to do this right, stop this,” and eventually she does stop it, and she does do it right. Nonetheless, a very vexing read. It has several elements which I enjoyed: Soli’s life in Oaxaca is one that was so poignantly described. And she’s this naive teenager who just wants to enjoy freedom, and thinks she’ll get it North of the border, and that innocence is charming instead of annoying; she learns quickly, she’s sharp, and you feel throughout like you want to be on her side. Then you have Kavya, whom I also quickly empathised with, because she was old (ok, over 30, old for brown families) and didn’t have a child yet, constantly compared with better young women her parents knew, she was a chef instead of a doctor, she had a constant sarcastic, almost bitter, tone; you also felt for her, but never quite as sympathetic.
Then you’ve got this backstory of immigration across this horrific border – of what children have to go through, what their parents are willing to risk, what entire communities are willing to sacrifice to have one person do better and get better. You’ve got this corrupt system that’s abusing these people and separating families and tearing apart good lives. You’ve got people who could probably do more, but choose to look away, and people who do more even though it puts themselves at risk. It’s such great backstory, and I haven’t read anything like it this year.
That’s why this will be the only Must Read on this list that’s only a Good. Because it’s not like the writing is excellent, and the plot is almost straightforward (except for a few points). But it’s interesting, and it keeps you on the edge – because of that frustration, because you want the best for these women (even though one is so much more privileged than the other – but can a woman be a woman if she can’t even bear a child?) and it seems impossible to get there. I really do think Lucky Boy, even though it has a few moments of Rishi at the end that are so heart-tugging, is about women helping other women; pulling up other women; tearing down other women; all the complex and myriad ways women interact with other women. It has this really great layered intersectionality that’s subtler than with most books I’ve read – it feels like it has different people from different places because that’s what the story demands, not just because the author is forcing it that way. It’s good, solid writing. It’s also really great everything else.