Cover image for Beginner's luck
Beginner's luck
Pedersen, Laura.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Ballantine Books, 2003.
Physical Description:
336 pages ; 21 cm.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR UG 6.5 20.0 77442.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks
X Adult Fiction Central Library
X Adult Fiction Open Shelf

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"There could be no doubt left in anyone's mind that my life had all the makings of a country-and-western song."

The second of seven children (with another on the way), Hallie Palmer has one dream: to make it to Vegas. Normally blessed with an uncanny gift for winning at games of chance, she's just hit a losing streak. She's been kicked out of the casino she frequents during school hours, lost all her money for a car on a bad bet at the track, and has been grounded by her parents. Hallie decides the time as come to cut her losses.

Answering an ad in the local paper, she lands a job as yard person at the elegant home of the sixty-ish Mrs. Olivia Stockton, a wonderfully eccentric rebel who scribes acclaimed poetry along with the occasional soft-core porn story. Under the same wild roof is Olivia's son, Bernard, an antiques dealer and gourmet cook who turns out mouthwatering cuisine and scathing witticisms, and Gil, Bernard's lover, whose down-to-earth sensibilities provide a perfect foil to the Stocktons' outrageous joie de vivre . Here, in this anything-goes household, Hallie has found a new family. And she's about to receive the education of her life.

From a wonderful new voice in fiction comes the freshest and funniest novel to barrel down the pike since Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Caf#65533; . In Beginner's Luck , Laura Pedersen introduces us to the endearing oddballs and eccentrics of Cosgrove County, Ohio, who burst to life and steal our hearts-and none more so than Hallie Palmer, sixteen, savvy, and wise beyond her years, a young woman who knows life is a gamble . . . and sometimes you have to bet the house.

Author Notes

Laura Pedersen is an author and playwright from Buffalo, New York. After finishing high school in 1983, she moved to Manhattan and began working on the American Stock Exchange, later spending the better part of the 1990s writing for The New York Times . In 1994, President Clinton honored her as one of Ten Outstanding Young Americans. She has appeared on varioius TV shows, including Oprah , Good Morning America, Primetime Live, and The Late Show with David Letterman . In 2001, her first novel, Going Away Party , won the Three Oaks Prize for fiction. Her other books include Beginner's Luck, The Big Shuffle , Heart's Desire, and Last Call . Laura lives in New York City.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Sixteen-year-old Hallie Palmer is bored with school and alienated from her family. She spends her spare time at the racetrack or crashing the secret, weekly poker game in the church basement. When she drops out of school, loses her savings at the track, runs away from home, and then is accused of robbery, it seems things have nowhere to go but up--and that's exactly what happens in this novel from Oxygen TV host Pedersen. Temporarily homeless and short of cash, Hallie takes a job as "yard person" for the quirky Stocktons and winds up finding the family she's always wanted. Olivia Stockton, a free-spirited, 60-something radical, schools Hallie in feminism, politics, and literature, while her son, Bertie, and his lover, Gil, introduce her to fine cuisine and culture. Pedersen overdoes the Stocktons' peculiarities--their household includes a bartending chimpanzee--and Hallie's incessant wisecracking soon wears thin. Still, this is a breezy coming-of-age novel with an appealing cast of characters. It's perfect book-club fare, and a reading group guide is included. --Meredith Parets

Publisher's Weekly Review

When Hallie Palmer, a 16-year-old gambling whiz kid, gets kicked off her Ohio high school's soccer team for skipping class, she quits school altogether. With her parents and six siblings breathing down her neck, she also decides to leave her chaotic home, hiding in the summerhouse of the Stocktons-the delightfully quirky family for whom she's just started doing yard work. Pedersen (Going Away Party), a wunderkind in her own right who had a seat on the floor of the American Stock Exchange at the age of 20, uses her financial background and expertise as a childhood card shark to concoct this buoyantly zany coming-of-age tale. Hallie is at first perplexed and then captivated by the Dickensian residents of the Stockton manse. There's the enthusiastically eccentric, multi-cause obsessed Olivia, the 62-year-old grande dame of the family who takes care of her Alzheimer's-afflicted husband; Bernard, her foppish son, who owns an antique store and is a gourmet cook of outlandish theme meals; his partner, Mr. Gil, the self-proclaimed "normal one," who is into "tooth prognostication"; and Rocky, a mixed drink-guzzling chimpanzee trained to work with paraplegics. Pedersen has a knack for capturing tart teenage observations in witty asides, and Hallie's navet, combined with her gambling and numbers savvy, make her a winning protagonist. As the first trade paperback original in the five-year-old Ballantine Reader's Circle series, this novel is funny and just quirky enough to become a word-of-mouth favorite. A preview of Pedersen's next book, an unlikely romantic comedy featuring a terminally ill Scotsman and a dying cloistered nun, also shows great promise. Agent, Judith Ehrlich. (Jan.) Forecast: Pedersen is already a TV personality with a show on Oxygen cable, Your Money & Your Life. There should be ample crossover interest from her fans. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Pedersen began her writing career with a memoir, Play Money: My Brief but Brilliant Career on Wall Street, followed by her fiction debut, Going Away Party. In her second attempt at a coming-of-age novel, she tells the story of the odd child out finding herself amidst a collection of odd folk. Narrator and troubled teen Hallie Palmer runs away from her very normal, if very large, family after her parents announce the impending arrival of child number eight. A neighboring family who has cornered the market on zaniness rescues her, and their exploits and interactions make for lively reading that almost covers the blandness of the plot. Like her previous effort, this novel is stronger in its parts than in the whole. A light read, this is not an essential purchase. [A Ballantine Reader's Circle selection.]-Jan Blodgett, Davidson Coll. Lib., NC (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Down and Out in Cosgrove County It's only midafternoon and already the whole day is a bust. I may only be a sixteen-year-old girl, but I'm an experienced gambler and so I believe in probability, not luck. But on days like this, you really have to wonder. The air is hot and still and feels like a weight up against my chest. I push down hard on the pedals of my bike because I'm so aggravated. Who does that cheapskate Mr. Exner think he is, trying to give me fifty cents apiece for Titleist golf balls that were hit twice at most? Balls I can clearly see he's repackaging as new and hawking for twelve bucks a dozen. Meantime I'm the one with leeches all over my ass after dredging the swamp otherwise known as the Municipal Golf Course. Grown-ups love to chisel teenagers because they figure we don't really need the money, that we're only going to blow it on concerts and incense. And then they wonder why we start packing automatic weapons in our lunch boxes. However, I decide to conserve my anger for this afternoon's soccer game. Our opponents, the Timpany Tigers, are a ferocious team-tall, mean, yellow-eyed, and all elbows. They live atop one of Ohio's thirty-eight hazardous waste sites, and obviously more than a few drums of toxic chemicals have seeped into their drinking water. It's almost two o'clock when the school parking lot comes into view. Only thoughts are churning in my head like an out-of-control slot machine, so I forget to look before hanging a Louie and therefore don't notice the handicapped school bus creeping along behind me. Fade to blacktop. I regain muscle movement in a hailstorm. The hard white golf balls clunking against my skull have acquired the velocity of flying soup cans. Bloody gravel-flecked road pizza now decorates my palms. And though my wrists are only bruised, it feels as if I've just arm-wrestled a security guard. Both elbows of my sweater are torn, and even though this outfit can't exactly be classified as women's better sportswear, Mom will be mad that it's headed for the trash instead of her beloved hand-me-down bin. The driver of the bus, a middle-aged man in full Mr. Rogers cardigan and khakis regalia, dashes over with a look of awestruck terror-fearful of a lawsuit, yet secretly thrilled by the job security of another rider for his specially ramp-equipped vehicle. "Are you all right?" His radio is poised, ready to call 911. "I'm okay. My fault." Gradually I rise and check to ascertain whether all my limbs are still attached and look around to make sure I'm not seeing double. Only I'm seeing spots. Eighty-two white spots bouncing across the blacktop and into the gully, almost fifty bucks' worth of golf balls. Do I chase after them? No. I'll miss the last class and won't be allowed to play in the soc- cer game. After adjusting the handlebars I remount my bike. The bus driver slowly follows me into the school parking lot. Part of me wishes he would just gun it and finish me off like a lame horse. The sunny September afternoon only serves to make the dark gray cinder-block building appear even more flat and gruesome than usual, if that's possible. Aside from this particular architectural monstrosity the town is okay looking-stately old buildings like the courthouse and the public library with pitched roofs, a couple of white pillars out front, and stone carvings of people in togas with some leaves stuck in their hair. But Patrick Henry High School was built much later. Before that the district wasn't big enough to have its own public school. And when the Town Council finally did get around to building one they apparently hired an escaped mental patient who thought it would be a terrific idea to combine the steel and glass construction of a smelting plant with the concrete block design of a maximum-security prison. Walking through the metal doors, you basically expect someone in a warden's uniform to throw a pile of license plates, a brush, and a can of black paint your way and bark start stenciling. The institution certainly brings to mind the three R's-ropes, revolvers, and razor blades. When I enter the building a bell alerts me that the next period starts in exactly two minutes. There's barely enough time to stop at my locker. As I grab my social studies notebook another bell heralds the start of the final class of the day. It's not as if social studies is any great party I don't want to miss out on. But Mr. Graves, my teacher, also happens to be the soccer coach. And if he discovers that I wasn't in the brig all day he won't let me play. The other slow self-starters are busy trying to blend into the laminated Mercator projection world map covering most of the back wall. There's one chair left in the last row in front of New Zealand. On his pudgy round face Mr. Graves wears square-shaped glasses with black plastic frames that double as bulletproof shields. They make his pupils appear to be contracting and expanding as he shifts his eyeballs from left to right, and so behind his back the kids call him Old Fish Eyes. He's chalked a list of the original thirteen colonies on the blackboard along with the names of the companies or individuals that founded them, in what year, when they received a charter, and their status in 1775. He could have distributed photocopies of this list. But no, he's worried that life is too cushy for us, what with EraserMate pens and word processors. Back when he was in school kids probably had to hunt pterodactyls in order to make ink out of the blood. With all the best intentions I carefully scribe Hallie Palmer, Grade 11 S.S. at the top of a clean white page with delicate aquamarine lines horizontally traversing it. However, the paper presents an opportunity to perform a few calculations of my own. With approximately twenty-one hundred dollars in the bank and the birthday money from my folks, if everything goes exactly according to plan, then a used car should be within reach in two more weeks. Though if I'd taken Cheap Old Mr. Exner's offer of forty-one bucks for the stupid golf balls rather than insisted on waiting to shop them to Mr. Burke down at the hardware store, I wouldn't have wasted an entire morning's work. Leaning my head back against the Tasman Sea on the smooth vinyl map, I nod off. The school may teach a lot about history, but somehow they missed the advent of the window shade. It's about a hundred degrees near the outside wall. And I'd been up most of the night before handicapping tomorrow's horse races. A couple other kids are also slowly losing consciousness, as if fairy dust has been sprinkled, and eyelids simultaneously droop to Mr. Graves's hypnotic buzz: Pine-forested Georgia, with the harbor of Savannah nourishing its chief settlement, was formally founded in 1733. When the ten-minute bell clangs like a fire alarm from out of the speaker above the round Seth Thomas wall clock, all the covert dozers, myself included, are jarred awake. The gaze of the entire class automatically drifts upward in the direction of the clock, which briefly shivers from the vibra- tion, the second hand practically moving backward until the clattering subsides. Mr. Graves continues like an icebreaker crushing through the North Atlantic, but to no avail. It's Friday afternoon of homecoming weekend and the room is whirring with the sound of closing notebooks, giggling girls, crumpling papers, and the rasps of metal chairs scraping across the floor. For Mr. Graves to go on is like trying to halt sailors heading down the gangplank for a long-awaited shore leave. A boy in the second row hurls a softball-sized rubber band ball directly above Mr. Graves's head. It goes thwack just inches away from the top of his skull and bounces back into the fast hands of another student. Mr. Graves turns quickly (at least quickly for him) in an attempt to catch the perpetrator in the act. As he scans the classroom we all work hard at looking angelically innocent. The end-of-class bell finally rings. As I follow the chattering crowd toward the hallway and freedom, I hear Mr. Graves intone "Hallie Palmer" as if he's about to begin the Reading of the Will. Pausing in front of his nicked-up wooden desk, I automatically scan the work surface to determine if he's in possession of any incriminating documents-referrals, bad test papers, unsigned permission slips. But there's nothing. Maybe I'm just getting busted for the catnap. Mr. Graves is so affectless that he never gives himself away. In fact, he'd make an excellent draw-poker player. You wouldn't be able to tell if he was bluffing, had a royal flush, or if he'd passed away from acute angina at some point during the hand. However, my own heart sinks when he opens with "I didn't see you at the pep rally this morning." "Oh, yeah," I say, "I went to the library to catch up on-" "The office sends me a copy of the absentee list every afternoon," he interrupts. "Do you think you can fool me by showing up for the last class of the day with torn clothes, fresh scrapes on your hands, and a sunburn?" he says as passionately as if he's reading aloud from a VCR manual. "You're off the team." There's no point arguing. In his three centuries of teaching, Old Fish Eyes has heard it all-alien abductions, teen amnesia, seeing the Virgin Mary in your Bunsen burner during a chemistry lab and having her tell you to rush to the mall. I nod my head and walk toward the door. I'm a firm believer in the convicts' code: Don't do the crime if you can't do the time. "I'm sorry," he adds, with not a hint of remorse. "You're a good halfback. But if you're hurt on the field your parents' lawyer will sue the school district. And if you're not here for at least half the day, then the insurance company won't accept the liability." And that's when I make my decision. They can't throw me off the team. Because I quit! And not only do I quit soccer, but I quit school, too. I'm outta here! 2 Count Me Out . The first benefit of being a dropout is more satisfying than holding a trio of deuces in a game of low-ball poker. I'll no longer have to navigate the porn auditions in the hallways after school-couples leaning against institutional green lockers making out as if they might die over the weekend while playing Quake III on their computers and never cop another feel again as long as they live. Aside from the sex-starved, the only other kids left are those staying for sports, band, student government, or detention. The bell rings to announce that if your butt is assigned to detention then that's where it had better be or else you've just upgraded yourself to in-school suspension. I automatically glance up at the aluminum framed clock bolted to the ceiling in the middle of the hallway. The entire student body is robotic in that we all involuntarily search for the nearest timepiece as soon as we hear a bell, even if it's just an oven timer at home. Out of the corner of my eye I catch someone peering around the corner at the far end of the hallway. For a split second I think it might be Craig Larkin and my stomach does an involuntary flip. Another look, however, reveals a skinny ferretlike boy who is the complete opposite of Craig. Creeping in my direction is fifteen-year-old Brandt Shaeffer. He skipped first grade after a teacher discovered him doing long division during the shoe-tying part of the program and so now he's in eleventh grade even though he's a year younger than everyone else. It makes a person wonder how such a stupid older sister like Sheryl could possibly have a smart younger brother like Brandt. I guess genes are a lot like poker and sometimes it's just the luck of the draw. I walk in the opposite direction so as to dump all my notebooks into the oversized garbage pail by the stairwell, only Brandt darts in front of me, hunched over his enormous pile of books like a nervous chipmunk sneaking off with an overly large nut that he fears will be expropriated by a flying squirrel. "Hi, Hallie," he croaks in that ever-shifting contralto voice which sounds as if permanent orange juice mucus is lodged in his throat. "Hi, Branch," I reply. This is what everyone calls him since he's tall and reed thin and runs on the cross-country team when the wind isn't strong enough to blow him over. "What's new in your galaxy?" he asks. "I've been kicked off the soccer team and I'm dropping out of school," I reply. Obviously he thinks I'm joking or the comment doesn't even register. Most likely the latter, since it appears as if something heavy is on his mind, like he's just discovered that Einstein may have taken a wrong turn somewhere with that relativity stuff. It's worth noting that Branch is drawn to me because I am also good in math. Only while he was the darling of the elementary school for his problem-solving prowess I was simultaneously being accused of cheating for getting the answers without showing my work. Brandt used his innate ability with numbers to analyze the universe, like w