Nate Harlow is the kind of kid you immediately feel sorry for. His parents were both killed in a drunk driving accident when he was four.He’s scrawny (as my 11-year-old boys are). The toaster always burns his toast.
On April eleventh, on Nate’s eleventh birthday, he wakes up feeling lucky. Today, he’s sure, his luck will turn.
And then he’s struck by lightning.
Unlucky, right? Maybe. But then strange things start to happen. The toaster pops perfect toast onto his plate, time after time. His touch starts the dead engine of an old, rickety boat that then wins the annual boat race. His raffle ticket wins his Grandpa a brand new truck. He becomes the new star baseball player.
But with his new-found luck comes trouble. Once an outsider with his best friend Gen, Nate suddenly finds himself one of the cool kids, leaving Gen to fend for herself. Grandpa’s new truck is finicky. And not all the townspeople of Paradise Beach are a fan of Nate’s new magic touch. Soon, Nate is starting to think getting struck by lightning was the most unlucky thing that’s ever happened to him. But then another tragedy occurs, one that shakes not only Nate, but all of Paradise Beach.
Bobby Pyron has captured the essence of a close-knit, working-class town. These are, for the most part, good, honest people and we want things to work out happily ever after for them. Throughout the story, we can’t help feeling sorry for Nate, first for his constant string of bad luck, and then for his curse of good luck. It’s a “careful what you wish for” type of scenario, and the reader catches on right away, torn between wanting Nate to be well-liked, and waiting for the other shoe (ha!) to drop. When it does, we feel the impact of Nate’s lesson, even while we’re shaking our heads and muttering, “I knew something like that was going to happen.” And then there’s Gen, who is perhaps most negatively impacted by Nate’s good luck. Strong, awkward, independent…Gen is the embodiment of adolescence. Trying to find her place, itchy in her own skin (even if she pretends not to be), as hungry for acceptance as she is for remaining true to herself. Lucky Strike‘s greatest strength is its characters. In our willingness to cheer for them, to frown on them, to shake our heads at their blinders, and to feel ourselves lucky enough to be a part of the Paradise Beach community.
Interested in reading more? Check out the excerpt below!
Monday morning found Nate fixing his own breakfast and telling himself to hurry up or he’d miss the bus.
“Sorry, boy,” his grandpa had said the night before as he packed his cooler for the next day. “I got so many fishing trips lined up this week, I have to be out the door before sunup every blessed day.” Grandpa bustled around the little trailer, smiling in a way Nate hadn’t seen in a long time. “Don’t know why my luck’s changed, but I got to get while the getting is good! Got to ride this wave right in to red snapper season,” he said, pretending he was riding the surfboard of his youth.
Nate popped two slices of bread into the toaster. He watched the appliance with an eagle eye while he stirred powdered coco into his milk. Yes, the toaster had been reliable lately, but he reckoned that wouldn’t last.
Ping! Both pieces of toast sailed into the air and landed neatly, side by side, on the paper towel. The toast was truly wondrous in its perfection.
“Jeez Louise,” Nate breathed. “Did you see that, Grandpa?” He turned to the couch, grinning. But of course, his grandpa had been gone for hours.
“I’m telling you, Gen,” Nate said as the school bus bumped along the sandy road. “it was like that toaster had it all planned out. I wouldn’t have been surprised if it hadn’t buttered itself and opened the jelly jar.”
Gen looked up from her book on theoretical physics and sighed. “Nathaniel, a toaster cannot have a plan because a toaster does not have a brain.” She shook her head and poked her nose back into the book. She’d just started the chapter on Chaos Theory and found it, well, disturbing.
“I know that. I’m just telling you what I saw is all. They landed right next to each other, neat as you please. What do you think the odds are of that?” He poked her in the ribs with his elbow.
Not looking up from her book, Gen said, “It’s just like flipping a coin. If you do it enough times, the odds are in your favor. If the toast flies out of the toaster, as you claim, enough times, odds are they will land side by side one of those times.”
Nate slumped in his seat and picked at the stuffing oozing from a tear in the vinyl. “It’s not the same at all,” he mumbled. “I knew that coin was going to land on heads. I felt it for a fact.”
The bus pulled up to the entrance of the Liza P. Woods elementary. The familiar dread Nate always felt when he got to school lodged in his stomach like cold, leftover grits.
Gen gathered her books and pushed her glasses up on her nose. She watched the chaos of running, screaming, laughing, crying kids and sighed. She reached up to pluck at an eyebrow, then popped a rubberband on her wrist instead—Mrs. Beam’s latest attempt to preserve Gen’s eyebrows. Nate pulled the sleeve down on his bandaged hand and arm.
Gen blinked up at him. “Ready?”
“I guess,” he said, and followed his friend out of the bus.
“See you back here after school,” she said, like she always did, something that gave him comfort.
A spitball sailed through the air and landed in her hair. Nate plucked it out.
He watched as she walked down the long corridor, through the gauntlet of kids who laughed and taunted her. Her backpack full of books hung almost to the back of her knees. She was the only kid in school who had ironed creases in her jeans, and the face of Albert Einstein on her backpack. For one single second, Nate wanted to run and catch up to her, to glare and holler at the kids who made her life at Liza P. Woods miserable.
It wasn’t any use trying to protect Gen, though. They were the same kids who made his life miserable too. The difference, Gen always said, was he cared what those kids thought and she did not. Easy for her to say, he thought, as he turned and headed to the other end of the building where his classroom waited for him. She had the whole big, chaotic, noisy love of the Beam family behind her.
Nate pulled open the door to room 311. The cold lump of dread shimmied in his stomach. He hunched his shoulders and braced for the snickers and the eye rolling and the feet that would try to trip him up as he walked to his desk.