Sunday, February 02, 2014

What’s Luck Got To Do With It?

It’s so easy to fall into the trap of thinking that our successes, as well as our failures, are attributable to luck.

If we finish a story, or find an agent, or publish a book, we often say it’s because of luck, or the stars are aligned, or someone above is offering a helping hand.

It’s the same if we make a mistake, or can’t sell our work, or our book fails to gain readers—we say it’s just bad luck, or the timing is off, or it isn’t our day.

This kind of thinking pays scant attention to the skills involved in making our “luck” happen and diminishes the large amount of work that we put into our efforts.

Our luck—whether we succeed or fail—has less to do with these “outside” influences and more to do with our own “inner” attitude toward what we do, our dedication to our work and our confidence in our abilities to perform a task well.

This is, ultimately, what Ari Fish, the 12 year old protagonist of Sarah Aronson’s novel, Beyond Lucky, learns over the course of the story, but it doesn’t come easily.

At the outset of the story, Ari believes in luck to the point where he hesitates to leave the house before reading his horoscope to make sure it offers a positive view of the day.

It’s both funny and sad watching Ari grapple with this deeply held superstition. And it’s his deep need to believe in luck that both drives the plot of this hard-to-put-down story and serves, ultimately, as his undoing.

Here’s how Aronson introduces us to Ari and his superstitious ways in the first chapter: 
     Call me obsessive, but first I eat a bowl of frosted cornflakes with half a cup of puffed rice and one-third of a banana, because this is what I ate before the first time I kicked a ball over Mac’s head. Under my jersey, I wear my brother Sam’s U Mass T-shirt, the one I stole out of his trunk the day he announced to my family that he was dropping out of college to fight California wildfires. Since Sam is still the highest scorer in league history, I do the same fifty push-ups he did. Then I recite the American presidents in order, first to last, while I stare at the poster of my hero, Wayne Timcoe, the only Somerset Valley High player to ever make it to the pros.
 That’s a lot of superstition weighing on Ari, but there’s more: 
     I sit on my bed and stretch my hamstrings. Before we leave, I would really like to read my daily horoscope as well as “Steve the Sports Guy: Real Advice for Real Men.” But today of all days, the paper is late.
     It’s an extremely bad omen.
What’s interesting about this collection of superstitions is that they are the very strands of plot out of which Aronson weaves this tale. Ari’s love of soccer and desire to excel like his brother, his love of his brother and fear for his safety as a firefighter, his idolization of Wayne Timcoe, and his devotion to the advice column for guys.

And when Ari, a collector of sports cards, finds himself with a Wayne Timcoe card, one of the hardest to obtain, he feels he’s gotten assurance from the invisible gods of luck that his luck (in soccer, in life) will be guaranteed.

Through it all, Aronson also manages to introduce a likeable and compelling rivalry between Ari and his best friend, Mac, and Parker, the only girl on their soccer team.

Aronson lovingly shares Ari’s story using the voice of a 12-year-old that’s filled with the kind of worries and humor that a 12-year-old boy would share with his friends, teammates, and even his parents.

As the story unfolds from one crisis to another, and Ari discovers that the card he placed such faith in isn’t in fact a guarantee for luck, Aronson shows us how Ari’s attitude toward luck begins to change when his lucky card is lost: 
     I stay up late, overanalyzing everything that has gone wrong.
     Sam didn’t call, even though he promised he would. I’m sure it only means what it always means. There was another fire. Otherwise, he would have called.
     I can’t consider anything else.
     The non-call has nothing to do with my horrible luck.
     And my horrible luck has nothing to do with the card. Or Parker. Or Mac. It’s just a coincidence. These things happen. Luck gets better. Then it gets worse. Then it gets better. It is a wave just like Steve the Sports Guy said. In a couple of days, everything is going to turn around, if not exponentially, at least incrementally.
     I believe that.
     I have to believe that.
And in the story’s final scene, Ari’s transformation from a boy believing that luck will save him to a boy believing in himself and his own skills is complete.

When his brother returns from fighting fires to watch Ari’s semi-final game for the championship and gives the pep talk before the players take the field, he says: “So then, I don’t have to tell you, soccer is a game of timing and skill. But it also a game of—”

And Ari interrupts: 
“I don’t want to be disrespectful, but we have worked hard. We play together. We are about to slaughter Plainfield/Montrose. I think we know the truth about soccer. At least, we know how to play like a team.”
No longer does he need his lucky card or his lucky presidents. He has everything that he needs. His parents on the sidelines. His brother. His friends. His team.

He knows now, thanks to Aronson's deft craftsmanship, what he didn’t know at the start of the story: That’s all the luck he needs.

For more about Sarah Aronson and her work, visit her website:

And for more about Beyond Lucky, visit:

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