44 pages 1 hour read

Irene Hunt

The Lottery Rose

Fiction | Novel | YA | Published in 1976

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Summary and Study Guide


Irene Hunt’s 1976 middle grade novel The Lottery Rose focuses on a young boy named Georgie who hides the evidence of his abuse and neglect at the hands of his mother and her boyfriend, Steve. After Georgie wins a rosebush at his local grocery store, he becomes attached to the shrub and passionately cares for it. Georgie’s life changes when the court system places him in an all-boys Catholic school, where he meets adults who genuinely care for his well-being for the first time. The story traces Georgie’s journey toward physical and emotional healing from his wounds and his struggle to trust others while caring for his beloved rosebush. Irene Hunt didn’t begin her writing career until her late fifties. Hunt’s Across Five Aprils won the 1965 Newbery Honor Award; in 1966, Up a Road Slowly won the Newbery Medal for Excellence. Hunt is known for writing historical fiction for children featuring young characters overcoming insurmountable odds.

The source material comes from the Margaret K. McElderry Books 2021 e-book edition.

Content Warning: The source material contains descriptions of child neglect, abuse, trauma, and child death.

Plot Summary

Georgie Burgess lives with his mother, Rennie, in Tampa, Florida. Rennie drinks heavily, and her boyfriend Steve abuses Georgie, sometimes with Rennie’s help. Because of her alcohol addiction, Rennie doesn’t provide enough food for Georgie, and he is often hungry and drained from worrying about whether Steve will come around the apartment and harm him. At school, Georgie struggles with his coursework but hides the abuse and neglect from his classmates and teachers for fear of embarrassment. Thus, his teacher and the school administrators think Georgie has a learning disability. Reading is a challenge, but Georgie loves looking at the pictures in his favorite book about gardens. He repeatedly checks it out from the library to get lost in its pages full of beautiful flowers. When Georgie is scared or hurt, he imagines that he can escape into the garden for safety.

Rennie gives Georgie some money to purchase food at the local grocery store. The cashier, Mrs. Sims, offers Georgie a ticket for the store lottery, informing him that he might win a prize. On the day of the lottery, Georgie wins a sickly-looking rosebush, but the win overjoys him so much that he runs from the store clutching his prize. If he brings home the rosebush, Georgie knows that Steve will accuse him of stealing it, so he searches for a safe place to plant it. However, he can’t find a suitable place. When he returns home, Steve is there, and he beats Georgie so severely that he breaks Georgie’s arm, and the neighbors call the police.

Georgie faints from the pain and awakens later as the police are questioning him. Still too frightened to tell the truth, he lies about Steve’s abuse. Steve destroyed the apartment in his rage, and the landlord threw away the debris, including Georgie’s rosebush. He begs them to rescue his treasure, and the landlord retrieves it from the dumpster. Georgie stays in the hospital until he is well enough to go home with Mrs. Sims. Mrs. Sims wants to adopt Georgie, but she and her husband are too old. Judge O’Neill sends him to a Catholic boys’ school out in the country. Mrs. Sims helps Georgie to his new home, and he settles in, still clutching his rosebush. From his room, Georgie can see a beautiful garden at the house across the street, and he decides it is the perfect place to plant his rosebush. Sister Mary Angela assigns Timothy to be Georgie’s buddy to show him around the school. Still tender from his physical and emotional wounds, Georgie stays quiet and is reluctant to trust anyone.

Georgie tells Sister Mary Angela that he wants to plant his rosebush in the garden across the street. She pledges to help him plant it somewhere special but explains that the Harper family owns the home and the garden. Mrs. Harper is still grieving over losing her husband and son Paul suddenly in a car accident. Paul used to spend much time playing at the school with the boys, and Mrs. Harper doesn’t want anything to do with the school now as it reminds her of Paul. Georgie refuses to accept that he can’t plant his rosebush there as it reminds him of the garden in the book that brought him so much joy. Georgie meets Mr. Collier, Mrs. Harper’s father, and her youngest son, Robin. Robin has developmental delays and is nonverbal. Mr. Collier is kind but tells Georgie that he can’t plant in their garden. Georgie sneaks out of bed and plants the rosebush in the garden anyway, but the following day, Timothy tells him that Mrs. Harper dug up the rosebush and threw it down the hill.

Georgie confronts Mrs. Harper, and she tells him that she will destroy the rosebush if he replants it. In a rage, Georgie threatens to burn down her house. Georgie’s shirt slips as he speaks, and Mrs. Harper sees the infected wounds on his back just as he collapses from fever and exhaustion. Sister Mary Angela later explains to Georgie how Mrs. Harper replanted the bush and watched over him while he was sick, but Georgie vows to hate her forever. Georgie slowly recovers and regains his strength, and Mr. Collier begins teaching him to read. Georgie catches on quickly and begins reading independently. He visits his rosebush often, and Robin attaches to him just as he had to Paul. Georgie takes Robin to feed the ducks at the lake and helps Robin learn to say a few words and phrases. Georgie even begins helping Old Eddie, the gardener, tend to the flowers, but he still refuses to speak to Mrs. Harper.

Georgie joins the choir, and Mrs. Harper attends their performance, which makes her cry. Sister Mary Angela tells Georgie that Mrs. Harper provided money for him to remain at the school. He wants to forgive her but can’t find the right words. Mrs. Harper begins teaching an acting class at the school so they can perform a play. Georgie longs to be a part of the production but refuses to be a part of anything Mrs. Harper directs; still, he attends all the practices and memorizes every part. Two boys fight, and Mrs. Harper removes them from the play. Georgie tells Sister Mary Angela that he is ready to forgive Mrs. Harper, and she asks him to play the part of the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland. Mrs. Harper plays Alice, and Georgie soars on stage, resolving afterward to tell her he loves and forgives her.

Robin waits anxiously for Georgie to take him to the lake to feed the ducks. His caretaker, Amanda, falls asleep in the garden, leaving Robin alone. After chasing a squirrel to the lake, Robin tries to feed the ducks, but they overwhelm him, and he falls into the lake and drowns. The boys’ choir sings at Robin’s funeral, and Georgie moves the rosebush from the Harpers’ garden to Robin’s grave. Mrs. Harper helps him dig the new hole for the rosebush, and she promises him that she will now take care of him, becoming a parental figure for Georgie and vowing to give him a stable and loving home.