Fourteen year-old Amelia’s mother dies, leaving her and two siblings alone in the world. Amelia’s determined to run the family gas station and keep her siblings together until she comes of age. When the town learns of her mother’s death, Amelia and her siblings face being split up in foster care, and Harvey Blevins, who owns all the other gas stations in the area, sees the chance to snatch that last station he covets. What she needs is a parent figure, and the moment the bum falls off a coal wagon, she hatches a plan. If he’ll pose as her father, she can keep the family together and Mr. Blevins from stealing her mother’s legacy.
From the first to the last lines of the story, the strong sense of voice rings clear and never falters. Bayard captures the rugged poverty of a rural southern town in the 1940s with perfect clarity. As the plot unfolds, the tension builds and Harvey Blevins is driven to more and more extreme measures in his attempt to crush Amelia’s strong spirit and muscle the last independent gas station in the region into his own pocket. Lucky Strikes is ultimately an inspirational battle of wills between a rich, powerful man and a fierce young girl. As Amelia learns to embrace who she is and fight for her family, the community begins to respond to her courage. The story reminds us that sometimes the battles hardest won are themselves not the real victory because what’s gained when family and community pull together is a far greater, richer reward.
This was a hard book to classify. Amelia’s age makes her a young protagonist for the young adult genre, but the heavy content and strong language leave it decidedly beyond middle grade readership. If hard-pressed, I might label it as coming-of-age, though Amelia still feels like a young person in many ways even at the end of the story.
Amelia hears rumors about her mother being promiscuous. The source appears to be more from dislike or lack of understanding of Amelia’s mom because she was such an unusual person. Hiram disappears some nights and returns in the mornings. Amelia believes he’s spending nights with a woman companion. Amelia shares fervent kisses with a boy.
At one point, the town refers to Amelia’s family as pagans. Her mother embraces the jab so that it becomes a family joke. Hiram brings a fortune teller to town to stir up interest and business.
A fire starts in an occupied building. Someone fires shots at Amelia and her family.
A drunk fortune teller stays with Amelia’s family and offers her services to the townspeople for a day.