These Unlucky Stars
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Published March 2, 2021
About These Unlucky Stars
From the author of CATERPILLAR SUMMER comes a new heartfelt story of a girl’s unexpected friendship that changes her forever.
Annie has always been the odd one out in her family. Her practical dad and brother just don’t understand the way she thinks. Ever since her mother left a few years ago, Annie has been reluctant to get close to anyone.
When a poor decision lands Annie in hot water, she must make amends by watching her elderly neighbor’s weird dog all summer. As Annie begins to connect with her neighbor Gloria, it becomes clear that Gloria won’t be able to live on her own for much longer. But it’s this brief and important friendship that gives Annie the confidence to let people in, and see how rich life can be when you decide to make your own luck and chart your own path to happiness.
Perfect for fans of Lynda Mullaly Hunt, Gillian McDunn has crafted another touching story that will remain in readers’ hearts.
I’ve been a fan of books by Gillian McDunn since her debut (which includes a girl fishing! Be still my heart!), so I was really excited to read THESE UNLUCKY STARS. I also tend to love intergenerational friendships and older characters who are prickly on the outside but have a heart of gold underneath that grouchy exterior. AND I love books about small southern towns. So this was pretty much a guaranteed win for me.
The book has so many great characters. From Otto, the unique dog and his protective, loyal spirit, to the BBQ owners who dote on Annie’s family like adopted grandparents, to the chatty, mischievous mayor’s son who wants to help people.
I loved the setting– the small town, the mountain landscape, and the southern expressions that appeared here and there and made me miss my family in North Carolina.
Most of all, I loved the emotional journey that Annie traveled. On page one, she’s an island of grief over the loss of her mom, and she feels trapped by bad luck. But as she’s faced again and again with opportunities to help people get ready for the town festival and is forced to work off her guilt helping Gloria, she begins to see things in new ways. She begins to come out of her shell and to heal from her grief.
Though I adore this book, there are a couple things I wish had been different. One is a spoiler, so scroll down to the end for that one, if you’re interested. The other thing is that we didn’t really get to see her dad’s reaction to the parade float she made for his shop, and I really wanted that moment. I think it would have been a cool way to resolve the issue between her and her dad over her artwork and a moment for him to show support. He does make a supportive comment, but it’s kind of quick and more really about the fact that Annie took on the job of the float, not really seeing and appreciating her work.
On the whole, though, I really enjoyed this book with its small town setting, intergenerational friendship, and tender exploration of grief and healing. I think fans of McDunn’s other books will definitely want to check this one out as well as fans of NEST by Esther Ehrlich.
Recommended for Ages 8 to 12.
One (minor) character has mental health issues. Two men (minor characters) are married.
Profanity/Crude Language Content
Annie worries that her dad may be interested in a new woman.
Annie’s mom told her she was born under an unlucky star. Annie clings to that identity and every time something bad happens, she chalks it up to inescapable bad luck. One character makes a reference to the Heavens being in charge of the living.
A woman falls and is injured. A boy punches the wall in anger.
Note: I received a free copy of THESE UNLUCKY STARS in exchange for my honest review. This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support this blog.
Spoiler – the Other Reason I Struggled with These Unlucky Stars
The other thing that I struggled with in the book is that Annie learns her mom has bipolar disorder. She didn’t like the way she felt on medication and stopped taking it. Then she realized her illness and the impulsiveness it caused put her children in danger, so she left them to protect them from her.
I feel like I’ve seen that in stories a lot lately– the bipolar parent who leaves the family– and I guess I kind of hoped THESE UNLUCKY STARS would take a different approach. I also tend to struggle with books that show people not taking meds because they don’t like how they feel– not that that doesn’t happen, but I guess because I feel like it’s a reason that’s overused.