How to Be Lucky

An essay by Karen Rivers, author of the middle grade novels Love, Ish and The Girl in the Well Is Me.

How To Be Lucky

Look, I want to tell you that being lucky is one thing, just one ingredient, a simple token you can find: a cricket; a four-leafed clover; the right snap of a wishbone; putting a found penny into your left shoe. But I’m a lucky person and I know differently.  I read a study in the Telegraph a while back that said lucky people are simply people who have low expectations. They go to a party and they don’t think, “If I go to this party, I’m going to meet the love of my life and live happily ever after!” They just go to a party. Unlucky people are just lucky people who are blinded by unrealistic expectations.

I’ve learned to expect nothing. From nothing, everything feels like good fortune. Timing helps, too, but that’s all a crapshoot. A ten-second delay caused by dropping your keys on the front walk and having them stuck in a crack can mean that you weren’t half-way across the road when the bus lost control and ricocheted into the crosswalk. (It’s sometimes best not to think about timing too much. One could become paralyzed, held captive by not knowing how or when bad luck could be life-saving—which would mean it was good luck, after all.)

I was writing one evening when I heard an explosion from outside that was so loud the pictures shuddered against the wall. I ran outside, where I could see smoke and flames shooting into the indigo-blue sky. I didn’t know what to do or who to call; whether to run towards it or away. I heard sirens, so I sat down on the front steps instead and watched the clouds absorbing the heavy smoke and merging into one blackness. When I came back inside, I found that I’d won $800 on Keno.   

Good luck and bad luck collide all the time, that’s just how it is. The juxtaposition is what makes a story. I sat down to write again and I remembered another indigo evening when I happened to look up at a particular moment and I saw a pure white cockatiel–someone else’s bad luck to lose him, I suppose–fly by the window of my Vancouver hotel room, fifteen stories up.  The bright flash of wings against the dark blue of the evening sky was a moment of pure magic. What luck, I said then, and I wrote it down to use later.

I began to type. As I wrote, I discovered that my just-remembered bird was now an albino parrot, not a cockatiel. His name was Buzz Aldrin and he belonged to a girl named Ish, who lived near a lake, and sometimes wasn’t lucky at all but also sometimes was, when she was able to stop expecting things to go a certain way. From there, I eventually arrived at a novel called Love, Ish. I told you:  I’m a lucky person.

You’re probably lucky, too. I hope so, anyway. I’m not saying crickets aren’t lucky, I’m just suggesting that you try not to expect anything. It works. Believe me, I know.

About the Book:

My name is Mischa “Ish” Love, and I am twelve years old. I know quite a lot about Mars.

Mars is where I belong. Do you know how sometimes you just know a thing? My mom says that falling in love is like that, that the first time she saw Dad, she just knew. That’s how I feel about Mars: I just know.

I’m smart and interesting and focused, and I’m working on getting along better with people. I’ll learn some jokes. A sense of humor is going to be important. It always is. That’s what my dad always says. Maybe jokes will be the things that will help us all to survive. Not just me, because there’s no “me” in “team,” right? This is about all of us. Together.

What makes me a survivor? Mars is going to make me a survivor.

You’ll see.


In Karen Rivers’s riveting new novel, Ish’s dreams for a future on Mars go heartbreakingly awry when an unexpected diagnosis threatens to rewrite her whole future.

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