‘The Lotterys Plus One’
By Emma Donoghue, illustrated by Caroline Hadilaksono
Arthur A. Levine Books
You’re taking up too much space. There’d be enough seats if you didn’t have two of them, so skootch down. Let someone else in. There’s room for everybody and everyone fits, but in the new book “The Lotterys Plus One” by Emma Donoghue illustrated by Caroline Hadilaksono, not everybody fits in.
Nine-year-old Sumac Lottery knew her family was different. It was no big deal, though; that’s what happens when a man from the Yukon and a man from India fall in love, and a Mohawk woman and a Jamaican woman fall in love, too. It’s what happens when there are seven kids, most of them from other “bios.”
It wasn’t always that way.
When MaxiMum was giving birth to Sic 16 years ago, PapaDum and PopCorn were rubbing MaxiMum’s back when CardaMom found a winning lottery ticket that someone else had lost. They got lots of money, which allowed them to change their surnames and buy a big house for the big family that the four parents always wanted.
That all happened long before Sumac was born.
And it might’ve stayed that way, too — 11 Lotterys (plus pets) in one big, rowdy, happy family — but then PopCorn got a call from the Yukon. His father had accidentally almost burned his house down, and he could no longer live by himself so the parents decided that Iain (PopCorn’s pop) should be moved into Camelottery. And because Sumac had a main-floor bedroom, she was asked to give it up and move her things to the Artic (also known as the attic).
That was something she really didn’t want to do. She really didn’t want “Grumps” to come live at Camelottery because he was mean and nasty, racist and he hated everything and everyone. To be truthful, Sumac didn’t like him very much, either, so she started to think up a plan.
Let’s start here: “The Lotterys Plus One” is too messy, too cutesy, too padded with not-pertinent-to-the-story scenes, and, with a plethora of names, too confusing. It’s as if lesbian author Emma Donoghue tried too much to put an Age-of-Aquarius spin on what could have been a simple story of diversity and inclusion. It’s too over the top.
That’s quite the departure from Donoghue’s adult novels, which are tight, vivid and brimming with stunning plausibility; instead, this story is just plain weird, starting with character names that are new-agey and forced-clever. These same characters give funny-not-funny names to rooms (“Derriere” is the backside of the house), and much of the dialogue consists of inside-jokes and preschooler misunderstandings (“Spare Oom.” Say it aloud). It’s as if Pippi Longstocking moved into a House of Wordplay, only not as charming and nowhere near as much fun.
At its very basic, this story — a large, diverse family welcomes an elderly relative — is solid, even good. It’s the peripherals that are hard to get past, and 8-to-12-year-olds may not have much patience for it. For sure, adults can spot “The Lotterys Plus One” and move on.