“Once upon a time, a man from Delhi and a man from Yukon fell in love, and so did a woman from Jamaica and a Mohawk woman. The two couples became best friends and had a baby together. When they won the lottery, they gave up their jobs and found a big old house where their family could learn and grow…and grow some more.
Now Sumac Lottery (age nine) is the fifth of seven kids, all named after trees. With their four parents and five pets, they fit perfectly in the Toronto home they call Camelottery.
But one thing in life that never changes…is that sooner or later things change.”
Emma Donoghue has written her first book for children. It is a quirky, romp of a story about diversity and family, with non-preachy life lessons about inclusiveness and unconditional love. This modern-day hippy, environmental, cooperative family home-schools, volunteers, has several ‘rescue-pets’ and gets creative about just about everything. But how accommodating can this otherwise amazingly flexible family be when their grandfather moves in? He’s the one from the Yukon who they’ve never met and seems so grumpy. Sumac, the narrator of the story, is horrified to learn that he’ll be taking her room on the first floor and he has something called dementia.
Every family has “inside jokes” in the form of silly words or nicknames, and Donoghue goes all out with that kind of wordplay in this book. The Dads are PapaDum and PopCorn, the Moms are CardaMum and MaxiMum, family meeting are ‘Fleetings’…you get the picture. There are WAY too many wordplays which at times interrupted the flow and made me stumble in the reading. I feel really conflicted about this book because I love the idea of it but found it hard to read.
Undoubtedly there is an amazing message to young readers…people and families come in all shapes and sizes and colours and types and this definitely is something to be celebrated and normalized, but the author packed in WAY too much which really bogged the story down. In contrast, her portrayal of a five year old boy in Room was so much more simply authentic and well fleshed out–these characters just felt like silly caricatures, which then kinda defeats the purpose. I think unfortunately, she had more fun writing it than anyone will have reading it–a book with a great premise but a lost opportunity in the end.
Note: Royalties from this project go to Room to Read, a nonprofit working in literacy and girls’ education across communities in Asia and Africa.