77 pages 2 hours read

Ruth Behar

Lucky Broken Girl

Fiction | Novel | Middle Grade | Published in 2017

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Summary and Study Guide


Lucky Broken Girl is a middle-grade historical novel by Ruth Behar. Main character Ruthie Mizrahi, an immigrant from Cuba, lives with her parents and brother in 1966 Queens. Together they try to quell their homesickness for Cuba while seeking new opportunities in America. When a car accident injures Ruthie, she becomes bedridden in a full body cast for over a year; during that time, challenges and fears she never anticipated give her a new perspective on life and luck. The novel, first published in 2017, draws heavily on Behar’s own childhood experiences and earned her the 2018 Pura Belpré Author Award. This guide follows the 2017 edition from Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House.

Plot Summary

Ten-year-old immigrant Ruth Mizrahi lives in Queens, a borough of New York City, in 1966. She and her family recently emigrated there from Cuba, leaving behind Fidel Castro’s communist rule. Ruthie works hard at school, learns English, and enjoys playing hopscotch after school with Danielle, a girl her age from Belgium. Mami tends the apartment and cooks meals while Papi works two jobs. Ruthie’s grandparents, as well as her Aunt Sylvia and Uncle Bill, live in the same building; other relatives and friends who also emigrated from Cuba live in different parts of New York.

Papi wants to take advantage of all the opportunities in America. He purchases an automobile with a loan from the bank. On the first day the family takes the car on a drive to visit friends, they are victims of a terrible accident. A young man, driving without permission and after drinking, loses control of his vehicle; it crosses the center barricade and hits the car in front of the Mizrahis, which then crashes into them. Injuries to Mami, Papi, Ruthie’s brother Isaac (Izzie), and Ruthie’s grandmother Baba are minor, but Ruthie sustains a badly broken leg that requires surgery and a week’s stay in the hospital.

A doctor named Friendlich treats Ruthie and decides to place her in a body cast to prevent one leg from growing at a faster rate than the other. The cast goes from her toes to her chest; a metal pole between her ankles helps her parents flip her from back to stomach; openings in the cast allow her to use a bedpan. The doctor tells the Mizrahis they cannot move Ruthie from her bed for months.

Once settled back in their one-bedroom apartment, Ruthie must contend with boredom and fear. Mami suffers the majority of the burden of Ruthie’s care; she frequently lets others (including Ruthie) know that she is frustrated by the isolation and hard work Ruthie’s condition causes. Visitors stare and speak awkwardly to Ruthie before leaving quickly. Even her friend Danielle visits only once and stays just an uncomfortable minute. However, Ruthie’s friend Ramu Sharma writes her a note and sneaks in to visit despite his mother’s rule that he cannot be friends with non-Indian children. Ruthie sees that he is genuinely concerned about her, but when Ramu’s little brother tragically dies, the Sharmas return to India.

A new neighbor, Chicho, moves into the Sharmas’ apartment. Chicho is different from most visitors; he genuinely cares for Ruthie, paints fun images on her cast, and provides her with supplies so she can learn to paint as well.

Ruthie gets a replacement body cast for several more months; then Dr. Friendlich replaces this with a cast on her still-broken leg for two additional months. Finally, he removes the cast and gives her crutches. As her casts disappear, more fear sets in; Ruthie feels she may never remember how to walk. Two nurses give up on her because her resistance frustrates them; a third nurse, Amara, sticks with Ruthie and with a tough-love approach teaches her to walk on crutches. When it is time to give up the crutches and walk on her own two feet, Ruthie receives additional encouragement from Chicho and Danielle, eventually surmounting her fear of learning to walk again. Over the course of her healing time, Ruthie learns more about her family, friends, neighbors, and herself, developing a more mature understanding of what it means to be “lucky.”

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By Ruth Behar