Monday 25 March 2013

The Luck of the Buttons

The Luck of the Buttons by Anne Ylvisaker (Candlewick Press/ Walker Books)
PB RRP $15.95
ISBN 9780763660611
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Tug Button, the main character in this outstanding novel, is reminiscent of Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird. The whole setting and environment brings that book to mind. A strong-willed tomboy, intelligent and questioning, Tug spends a lot of time in the local library with the Librarian learning words and their definitions from the giant dictionary. This is a marvellous thread that leads Tug to discovery and change.

The Buttons have never been lucky. Nothing ever goes right in their life. They are a rag-tag bunch known for their poverty and low educational status. But everything begins to shift when Aggie Millhouse, daughter of the Banking family of Goodhue, decides to be Tug’s friend.

Within this story weaves another sub-story of significance. Harvey Moore enters Goodhue claiming to be a newspaper man on a mission to bring progress once again to the place by bringing back the local newspaper and calling it the Goodhue Progress. He persuades the wealthy people to hand over money for a down payment on a printing press in return for advertising in the first edition. These two themes entwine and extend into a revealing tale of manipulation and possibilities.

When Tug wins two blue ribbons – one for best essay, and the other in a three-legged race with Aggie, everyone is astonished.  But then she goes on to win a Brownie camera in the raffle from tickets given to her for helping the shopkeeper unpack his goods. The camera becomes instrumental to the awakening of great optimism and opportunity in Tug, a child who, ‘in her life, could not find one beautiful thing’, for she thinks of all the things the Buttons are not. And the list is endless. But she feels a sense of possibility; that life has brought about a change for her.

It’s when Tug sees past Harvey Moore’s fa├žade, and her sleuthing and library research uncovers the truth about this smart-talking, beguiling persuader, that the wealthy of the town are forced to take the transformed Tug seriously.

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