Una and Julien live very different lives. Una is the wealthy magister’s daughter, while Julien is the son of a poor botanical forager. But these two children have something in common: They each possess the rare supernatural gift of a heightened sense, Una for scent and Julien for sound. Their gifts shape how they interact with the world around them and add a layer of wonder to ordinary, everyday life. But when Julien’s father is imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit and Una becomes embroiled in Julien’s fight to free him, both children begin to realize that their gifts may be useful in ways they never could have imagined. In fact, they might even hold the power to save lives.
The Other Side of Luck, Ginger Johnson’s second middle grade novel, is a captivating feast for the senses. Johnson describes sights, smells and sounds in exquisite detail. Julien hears “the singing of sprouts and seedlings stretching and swelling, the hymn of flowers unfurling, the fusion of trees and grasses as they harmonized in their upward reach,” and Una perceives the scent of her father’s unexpected laughter as “spicy, aromatic and somewhat peppery.”
Despite these sensory delights, Johnson’s story deals with weighty themes of grief, loneliness and identity while exploring complex family dynamics. When Una was 7, her mother died. Afterward, her distant father practically vanished from her life, first because of his grief and then because he remarries a woman who seems to have no interest in a maternal relationship with Una. Una now longs to connect with her mother’s family, whom she has never known. Julien, on the other hand, is close with his loving father, but he misses the mother who died giving birth to him and struggles to keep a brave face in light of his father’s worsening illness. Yet through loss and sadness, neither Una nor Julien loses sight of the beauty in their life, and their gifts become a lifeline to hope.
Immersive and sensitive, The Other Side of Luck will be enjoyed by middle grade fantasy readers in search of a story full of magic and heart.