In a compelling genealogical mystery set in 1964 Ontario—one of seven interlinked novels in the Secrets series, publishing simultaneously—mixed-race 16-year-old Malou Gillis embarks on a quest to illuminate her heritage. Spat out into the harsh world after her orphanage burns down, Malou makes her way to the town of Parry Sound, where an old hospital bracelet is her only link to the family that abandoned her. She accidentally lands a job as a cleaner in the medical center and, with her newfound freedom and income, has other firsts like a date with a Mexican orderly, Frankie, who helps her discover that something larger is at play in her past. Malou is braver than she knows, hitting a dead end almost immediately but using the false start to make her first friend. Through this inspiring heroine and characters that include a gay, biracial couple living as sisters-in-law, Jocelyn illuminates racial and social inequality as significant today as it was during the civil rights movement. Poignant and resonant, it’s an important exploration for readers seeking their own identities. Ages 12–up. (Sept.)
"Short, diary-style chapters keep the plot moving as our charming and optimistic heroine uncovers some startling information about herself and learns about the true nature of family and friendship. Sharp writing keeps this dramatic coming-of-age story from taking a turn toward the saccharine or melodramatic...Lovely and easily digestible historical fiction."
"Adept at historical research, Marthe Jocelyn brings into her story issues of racism, homosexuality, and the advancement of modern medicine in the 1960s."
"Malou has led a sheltered life at the orphanage and often reveals an innocent naiveté, but her resourcefulness and intelligence counteract this to make her an engaging and likable character to whom readers will relate. The cast of characters in the book is very diverse, but it never feels forced and avoids the pitfalls of tokenism...An entertaining book and a great mystery that will also introduce readers to an interesting sliver of medical history...Highly Recommended."
"Facing racial hatred from a myriad of sources, Malou’s experiences highlight racial, social and sexual inequalities of the era without being preachy. At times, the situations were frightening and all too realistic, but Jocelyn manages to weave the issues of the day into her story without having them take over...This is, ultimately, a story of finding out who you are—a concept every teenager struggles with at some point in their life. Although Malou answers many questions about her past, there are still some issues left unresolved, and I liked that. In life, not every question has an answer, but we learn to move past that in order to make our own future."
Lost in a Great Book blog
Gr 9 Up—Two Canadian teens struggle to make their way in the 1960s after a fire destroys their orphanage. Malou, the 16-year-old protagonist of A Big Dose of Lucky, is served a heaping helping of misfortune in the first chapters of this quick read. From harassment by the town thugs to her ultimate triumph in discovering who her parents are, Malou develops from a sheltered waif to a powerful young woman who is proud of her dark skin and is relentless in her pursuit of the truth about her heritage. Jocelyn does not shy away from the central conflicts of race, interracial relationships, or same-sex marriage in this highly engaging work of historical fiction. In Stones on a Grave, Sara is industrious, has big dreams, and is newly 18. Sara's story is narrated in the third person, and that distance may strain readers' willingness to go along for the ride. After the fire, Sara is given a necklace with a Star of David, a little money, and some basic information about her journey to Canada from Germany as an infant refugee of the Holocaust. Once in Germany, Sara finds true love, is reunited with a long-lost relative, and must make a decision about the future she will pursue. Kacer's comparison of healthy and unhealthy relationships may resonate with some readers, as will her themes of survival, both of the Holocaust and of rape. This entry has a plot filled with potential but delivers a less satisfying story than some of the other books in the series. VERDICT An uneven, though often engaging, historical fiction series.—Jodeana Kruse, R. A. Long High School, Longview, WA
Malou always wondered who her parents were and how she came to be the only colored girl at the small-town orphanage. When a fire destroys the group home and forces her to leave the girls who were like her sisters, Malou follows a clue to Parry Sound, Ontario, where she might find the truth and a new family. Part of the Secrets series, this historical novel by Jocelyn explores racial identity, prejudice, and the meaning of family through 16-year-old Malou's journal-style entries. Malou's innocent and optimistic voice adds levity to what could have been a heavy narrative. She encounters prejudice both as an orphan and because of her dark skin. However, most of her context for racial injustice comes from following news from the United States. Set in 1964, the book refers to the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham and the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Unfortunately, there are few references to Black Canadian historical events, an oddity given the book's focus on Malou's background; it's Malou's interactions with the racially diverse group of people she meets during her search that are the novel's real strength. Learning about their varying perspectives is as eye-opening for Malou as discovering her own history. A fresh coming-of-age tale with an unconventional twist. (Historical fiction. 13-17)