ARC Review: The Lucky Ones by Liz Lawson

“For the first time in forever, I dare to think that there might be a chance for me after all.”

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Notice: I was approved for an eARC of this book back in December on NetGalley. The Lucky Ones debuts next Tuesday, April 7th!

May is a survivor. But she doesn’t feel like one. She feels angry. And lost. And alone. Eleven months after the school shooting that killed her twin brother, May still doesn’t know why she was the only one to walk out of the band room that day. No one gets what she went through–no one saw and heard what she did. No one can possibly understand how it feels to be her.

Zach lost his old life when his mother decided to defend the shooter. His girlfriend dumped him, his friends bailed, and now he spends his time hanging out with his little sister…and the one faithful friend who stuck around. His best friend is needy and demanding, but he won’t let Zach disappear into himself. Which is how Zach ends up at band practice that night. The same night May goes with her best friend to audition for a new band.

Which is how May meets Zach. And how Zach meets May. And how both might figure out that surviving could be an option after all.

Even nearly 4 months later, I praise The Lucky Ones the most for is its real and raw depiction of grief, misery, and reluctant hope. Liz Lawson does an outstanding job of character development in this book. Despite my incredible fortune to have never had to live through an active shooter situation, I could feel every emotion our main characters, May and Zach, felt.

May’s terror during the shooting. Her grief and regret for surviving it.

Zach’s anger and disgust for his mom and her choice to defend the shooter. His anxiety about who’s going to walk out of his life next, and holding on dearly to those who say they won’t.

Honestly, there is so much to say about this book that the following list is completely non-exhaustive. Nevertheless, here are five topics/situations that The Lucky Ones explores in a remarkable way.

#1: Survivor’s guilt

As the synopsis notes, May is the only survivor of the band room shooting. She struggles with inconceivable guilt throughout the book for being so, and she frequently asks herself why she got to live, but everyone else didn’t. Her agonizing over the what ifs/should’ves/could’ves made for a really emotional reading experience.

“I didn’t deserve a future. Now here I am, in my undeserved future, without Jordan.”

#2: Realistic representation of trauma symptoms

One of the things that made the character emotions so poignant and vivid is the trauma-induced actions they take. For example, May frequently tries to isolate herself, goes nonverbal, experiences bouts of anger at herself and others, displays aggression/violence, and intentionally participates in reckless behavior. Zach also shows similar trauma symptoms such as anger/aggression and anxiety.

These actions are done without explanation, but you as a reader know that they are born from unexpressed internal turmoil. The Lucky Ones does a remarkable job at showing trauma rather than explaining trauma.

#3: Exploiting/romanticizing victim trauma

Situations of trauma romanticization happen in passing throughout the book, but I still think it’s important to note. Here’s a great quote:

“And when school reopened school, everyone wanted to be my friend all of a sudden—people who’d never talked to me before would come up to me in the halls all, ‘May, are you okay, how are you doing, blah blah blah’—like they wanted to feed off what happened to me, make it more their own. It was disgusting.”

#4: Broken family dynamics

Both of our main characters have households that have been damaged in some aspect as a result of the shooting. For May, her household is obviously now one smaller, and the void of Jordan’s absence forges distance between her and her parents.

“I didn’t realize it until he was gone, but he was the glue holding us all together.”

Likewise, Zach’s household is damaged by his mother’s job. Zach frequently lashes out at her for ruining their lives for legally defending someone he feels is indefensible. Zach’s father is also dealing with clinical depression and is physically present in the house, but not mentally/emotionally.

#5: Reluctant resilience

What I love the most about the ending of The Lucky Ones is the fact that there is no resolution. May’s trauma is not magically gone and Zach’s family isn’t magically fixed. However, even though there’s no ending wrapped in a pretty bow, there is a concluding sentiment of reluctant resilience. May begins to feel inklings of hope for recovery. Zach takes small steps to repair his relationship with his parents.

It was really inspiring to see these characters begin at rock bottom and slowly but surely begin crawling out of the trench. In all, The Lucky Ones is a fantastic realistic fiction novel about tragedy and loss, but also recovery and resilience.

Since this is the first post I’ve published on the blog in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, I just wanted to make space for an announcement to please keep supporting authors who have books debuting during this difficult time. Buy their books if you really enjoyed them, even if you got them early through NetGalley. Support preorder campaigns. Buy from indie bookstores (who are hurting the most right now).

Liz has spotlighted a lot of mixed emotions she and other authors are feeling about having their work released during a global crisis. Do your part and make their debuts great.

4 thoughts on “ARC Review: The Lucky Ones by Liz Lawson

  1. I’ve heard of this book before but I never really took the time to look up the plot. It sounds so impactful and important. This book sounds so good and I’m definitely adding it to my list.

    Also, the organization of this review in breaking down important themes was so beautifully done and really helped make the book seem interesting to readers since you’re highlighting what makes it so good/unique. Really good post!


  2. Wonderful review, I just started the audiobook and I’m already COMPLETELY HOOKED!!! It all feels so raw and realistic. And I love the overall voice of the book.


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