4 out of 4 stars
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Ramón León Carrasquillo is a 19-year-old Puerto Rican American. On November 17, 1944, he sees a number in the sky. He decides to buy a full sheet of tickets in the Puerto Rican lottery with all his savings. He bets the number he saw in the sky and hits the jackpot. He takes this as a sign from God for him to keep a promise he made years ago to Doctor Roberts. Roberts is the dentist who saved 8-year-old Ramón from a tooth infection. The dentist had the desire to open a clinic in Ramón’s village but fell ill. Hours before the dentist died, Ramón promised that when he grew up, he would carry the old man’s vision through. When word of his fortune spreads, villagers travel from far and near to see Ramón and ask for money. Ramón has another problem on his hands. His number was the same number a rich merchant, Señor Trujillo, had played for years. Señor Trujillo failed to play that number only on the day Ramón won with it. The merchant is now out for revenge and will not rest until he gets what he believes is his.
Ramón plans to move to the USA to study dentistry at Michigan State University. Achieving this dream will turn out to be harder than Ramón anticipated. He falls in love, faces rejection, gets his heart broken, and even spends a night in jail. A coming-of-age story, Luck is Just the Beginning is about a young boy determined to change his life and his village for the better.
Luck is Just the Beginning is the debut historical fiction novel by Celeste León. It is based on the true story of her father, Ramón León. Celeste León was named one of the “Top Ten New Latino Authors of 2017” by LatinoStories.com and the Latina Book Club of New York. She has also had her short stories published in the well-known Chicken Soup for the Soul series. It took reading only a few chapters of Luck is Just the Beginning to realize that León is deserving of the many accolades she has received over the years.
León tells her father's story in a poignant and humble way. She weaves fiction and fact together so well, it's almost impossible to tell where the one ends and the other begins. I was immediately transported to the village of Maunabo, in Puerto Rico, as it was in 1944. The 350 pages of this unique tale evoked a plethora of emotions within me, from love and laughter to frustration and despair.
The main themes in the book are luck, perseverance, family, forgiveness, and faith. The real antagonist in the story is circumstance. Most of the conflict that arises between characters ultimately stems from the poverty and dire situations they find themselves in. Señor Trujillo is a prime example of this. At first, I despised him for his obsession with ruining Ramón’s life, simply because Ramón won the lottery and he didn’t. Yet, as Señor Trujillo's story unfolded, I began to understand the roots of his desperation and anger. By the end of the book, I felt deeply sorry for him and his family.
Ramón Carrasquillo was perfect as a protagonist. It was an absolute joy to witness his transformation from a confused and impulsive boy, into a mature, driven and selfless young man. His persistence, courage, commitment, and willingness to succeed made me fall in love with him and his story. One time, after Ramón spent more than 20 hours working on his English essay, his professor accused him of cheating. Professor Rolf felt the essay was simply too good to have been written by Ramón. Nervous but determined, Ramón defended himself in front of the board at the disciplinary hearing. When he walked out victorious, I felt I had won as well, in some way. He was larger than life, a hero of sorts.
The book’s strongest point is the attention that was paid to detail. Every single character had substance. No one was simply included for the sake of moving the plot along. The same can be said about the setting and the era in which the story is set. The book aptly captured the soul and the spirit of that tumultuous period just before World War II ended. To my delight, the book was devoid of any glaring inaccuracies or anachronisms. The author also included actual pictures of Ramón and his family at the end. This added a realistic touch to the book
I rate Luck is Just the Beginning 4 out of 4 stars. A more accurate rating would be 3.5 out of 4 because the book contained a few editing errors. However, I chose to round the number up as these can be considered trivial, given the length of the book.
Other than that, there is nothing that I did not like about this book. I recommend it to young readers of historical fiction and romance. Please note that the characters in the novel are Catholic. As a result, the book has a religious undertone. Readers opposed to that might find references to religion distracting.
I look forward to reading more works by this author.
Luck is Just the Beginning
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