Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Beginner's Luck - Laura Pedersen



Beginner’s Luck
Laura Pedersen
Ballantine Books

Fiction

At the ripe old age of 16, Hallie Palmer is an overachiever. Unfortunately for Hallie and her family and their relationship, her area of overachieving happens to be gambling. Eventually, even the last bright spot in the dismal world of high school blinks out when she’s kicked off the soccer team. At that point, at the end of her very young rope, Hallie decides to simply quit school. This doesn’t go over too well at home, and after losing all of her cash at the racetrack, Hallie leaves.

She manages to land in the summerhouse of the Stockton family, and supports herself by doing yard work for them. Of course, she also makes time to visit the track and crash local poker games held in church basements. But it’s really the amazingly eccentric Stockton family that captivates her. Matriarch Olivia tirelessly works for multiple causes. Her adult son, Bernie, owns an antiques store and cooks insanely grandiose themed gourmet meals, while his partner, Mr. Gil, seems to think he’s got the more normal hobby. Over the course of a year with the Stocktons, Hallie grows up quite a bit, and learns to redefine the important things in life.

While this novel is very well written, it may not appeal to all people at all times. There’s a fine line between eccentric characters and egregiously zany characters. The Stockton clan as a whole barely manages to stay on the right side of that line. What makes it possible is the shadings of character with which the author imbues them. Olivia, for instance, could be a fluttery, cause-mad goofball; but the author gives her a history and a personality that grounds her and makes her likeable. Hallie returns in at least two more volumes, and I find that I’m looking forward to watching her progress.

Rating: 7 ½
January 2003
ISBN# 0-345-45830-3 (trade paperback)

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