The Lucky Place

The Lucky Place

Zu Vincent

Cassie’s relationships with her fathers, old and new.

Here’s what I think. I think having two daddies is like riding the elephant. You don’t know until you get up there what an elephant smells like, or how high you will be on the elephant’s back. But then you realize. And the basket tips one way and then the other, like you might fall, every time the elephant steps.

When her father, Sikes, gets drunk and forgets three-year-old Cassie at the races, it’s the last straw for her mother. Soon Cassie and her brother, Jamie, have a new dad and move into what their mother calls their Lucky Place, where her two little brothers are born. Cassie wants to believe in the Lucky Place, but behind the rosy picture of sixties suburbia is another, more fragile and complex world.
Cassie adores her new dad, Ellis. If only Jamie would love him, too. If only their charming, sloppy-drunk father would quit popping in and out of their lives to ruin things. If only their mother would stop pretending. They might be happy on Diamond Street.

Then during a family trip, Cassie learns a terrible secret about Ellis that threatens to shatter the dream of the Lucky Place forever. In the end, Cassie faces great loss, but by also facing the truth about her family, and learning to look at them with unflinching love, she discovers a stronger sense of self.

  • Ages: 11 and up
  • Grades: 5 and up
  • Pages: 238

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Recent Reviews

7 This delicate page-turner is written in a way to subtly grab the reader by the gut, causing the reader to empathize with Cassie's character immediately. In this coming-of-age novel, life's intricacies are interpreted through a childs misperception until those skewed perspectives painfully right themselves as she grows older. It is the 1970s and three-year-old Cassie has a drunk for a father. Once her daddy accidentally leaves her at the race track, her mama can take no more of it, and leaves him for another man. As the years go by, Cassie grows to love her "new daddy" with intensity, as she deals with the guilt of loving and missing her "old daddy" less and less. Things grow confusing for Cassie when her new daddy grows sick with cancer. She tries to reason through her guilt and feeling that she has cursed the family because she couldn't help loving new daddy more. Through the trials of watching her new daddy slowly dying and her mother fall apart, Cassie tries to keep the family and finances together, growing up too fast. The conclusion is thoughtful, satisfying, and realistic. Highly Recommended. Leslie Freddy Library Media Specialist, Perry Meridian Middle School, Indianapolis, Indiana

—Library Media Connection

The writing is clear and elegant

—Kirkus Reviews

Cassie’s first-person story starts at age 3, when her father forgets her at the racetrack. After her parents divorce, her mother soon marries Ellis, who becomes the New Daddy. Cassie’s older brother, Jamie, longs for Old Daddy, but Cassie is torn between her love for her imperfect father and her growing love for the new one, who moves the family to a nicer home in a new California subdivision. The 1960s setting is infused with small details from a child’s viewpoint, providing a solid backdrop to the timeless story of changing family dynamics and allegiances. After Ellis is diagnosed with cancer when Cassie is 12, she and her family again struggle emotionally and financially, and her mother’s drinking problem escalates. Cassie might be faulted for sounding too mature for her age, but like many children in similar situations, it’s all too realistic. She learns that the lucky place isn’t a street address but a spot inside herself. Fans of Nancy Werlin’s Rules of Survival (2006) are a natural for this sad but hopeful story.


A stunning fiction debut by an author to watch.

—School Library Journal

Despite the fact that her father, Sikes, has a habit of getting drunk and leaving her in public places, three-year-old Cassie makes the rash vow that she will always love him more than Ellis, her mother's second husband and her new daddy. The problem is that Ellis is a really good man, and he loves his stepchildren, Cassie and her older brother Jamie, every bit as much as his birth children, who still live with his first wife. As Cassie transfers her affections to Ellis, she is plagued with guilt, especially when Sikes occasionally breezes into their lives, asking her to remember her promise. When Cassie is twelve, Ellis develops cancer, and Cassie is sure that it's her fault for not keeping her vow; shame weaves its way through her sorrow as Ellis fights his losing battle. The 1960s setting lends subtle credence to the attitudes of the characters: beer is a cure for morning sickness, smoking is something everyone does, radiation therapy is new, and Cassie's mom is betting on miracle cures not yet available. The point of view of a three-year-old is hard to capture, but Vincent does a credible job of casting Cassie's immature thinking in concrete metaphors that leave residual traces of belief as she grows up. What is perhaps most heartbreaking is the moment when Ellis expresses his anguish over his disease and confides in her his fears about leaving his family in the hands of a woman not emotionally equipped to bear his loss: She’ll just drink, he says, after. Sadly, he’s probably right, but he’s managed to help Cassie develop a strong enough sense of self—one that includes a healthy dose of forgiveness for herself and others—to stand up for both herself and her brothers. The final chapter offers overly hermetic closure, but the path to Cassie’s epiphany is moving and multilayered, offering a touching portrayal of a daughter’s love for a worthy, if far from perfect, father.

—Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

Cassie is three when her drunken father loses her in the crowds at the race track. Her parents divorce after her mother finds out, and Cassie blames herself. She feels guilty throughout much of her childhood as she tries to understand the adults in her world. Life improves after her mother marries Ellis, and the blended family moves to the lucky place—a new house in a decent neighborhood. In the following years, Cassie and her older brother struggle with divided loyalties between supportive New Daddy and irresponsible Old Daddy. When Ellis gets cancer, the family dynamics continue to confuse Cassie as her family changes, finally accepting losses. Set in the early 1960s, this slender novel is quietly wrenching. In short vignettes, the Worth family comes alive as people who could be your neighbors. Ellis is a loving stepfather; over time, the family bonds through daily living and shared hopes. Cassie is sometimes wise beyond her years both in language and thought. Vincent is a talented writer with the ability to convey emotions though simple, elegant phrases. The question is whether this novel has teen appeal. The plot, ending when Cassie is twelve, is revealed from the perspective of a young child and there is no obvious teen hook. The cover, although intriguing, is not a teen magnet. The book appeals to the special teen or adult reader as one of those worthy, nuanced titles that requires hand selling and guarantees reflection after turning the last page.

—Voice of Youth Advocates

Reading Cassie’s story means catching a glimpse of a young girl’s struggle to find balance in her life. It’s clear that Cassie is a caregiver of the first order. She’s learned from an early age that she is responsible for holding her family together. If bad things happen, it’s because she didn’t do something right. If good things happen, it is pure luck and things are precarious, so it’s best not to let herself get settled. The first person narrative of this book was well-chosen, as Cassie appears perfect on the outside, with her quiet and helpful attitude, but the reader is aware that this girl is far from comfortable on the inside. Her stomach twists and her thoughts travel unceasingly. The challenge of keeping a character’s voice believable and consistent is always difficult. Vincent manages it under doubly difficult circumstances, since this story spans from Cassie at age three to Cassie at age twelve. Vincent has done an amazing job of capturing the world from a preschooler’s perspective and growing the voice along with the character. It feels like a natural progression within Cassie’s story, and indeed, the readers must purposefully focus on the language to see how it changes throughout the four sections of the book. Subtly. Brilliantly. The biggest part of Cassie’s personal journey, or at least the snapshot of her life that is primarily explored, is her relationship with her new daddy. The complexity of this family dynamic is rarely scratched below the surface in most books but fully plays out in this one. Vincent takes her readers on the same spinning, twisting, leaping journey taken by her exceptionally well-developed character.

—ALAN Review

Honors for The Lucky Place

  • Kansas State Reading Circle
  • Paterson Prize for Books for Young People
  • 08-09 Top 40 Fiction PSLA

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