Set in Tampa, Florida, Newbery Award-winning American author Irene Hunt’s young adult novel, The Lottery Rose
(1976), follows seven-year-old Georgie Burgess, a lonely boy from an abusive family who hides his pain and anguish by retreating into the wonderful world of secret rose gardens. When Georgie wins a rosebush in a store lottery, he begins giving it all the love and affection he’s never enjoyed. The court assigns Georgie to stay in a Catholic school for boys, where he uses his newfound sense of caring in a way that allows love to bloom and his life to change for the better. The Lottery Rose
has been called “a deeply affecting, affirmative story” by Booklist
Narrated from alternating third person limited and third person omniscient
perspectives, the story begins in Tampa, Florida. Seven-and-a-half-year-old Georgie Burgess lives with his physically abusive mother, Rennie, and her violent boyfriend, Steve. Although Georgie keeps his abuse a secret, it has turned him into a mean troublemaker at school. Georgie often talks back to his teacher, gets into fights, and even started a fire underneath the car of his first-grade teacher, Miss Cressman. Georgie has not yet learned to read, but he finds solace by looking at books in the library with pictures of flowers.
One day at the local grocery market, a clerk Mrs. Sims gives Georgie a lottery ticket. When the lottery draw takes place, Georgie is awarded a small rosebush. Thrilled about his prize, he races home to care for it. At home, Georgie is angered to find Steve, who beats Georgie with the leg of a chair. The beating is so bad the police come and remove Georgie from his dangerous environment. Georgie is sent to stay with Mrs. Sims’s family, including her husband and their foster son. Georgie brings his unplanted rosebush with him. As Georgie’s social worker and the judge assigned to his case find a place for the boy to live, Georgie worries about the health of his rosebush and locating a home for it to flourish.
Judge O’Neill assigns Georgie to attend an all-boys Catholic boarding school. Georgie takes his rosebush with him. When he arrives, he decides it belongs in the garden across the street from the school. Against the wishes of Principal Sister Mary Angela, Georgie sneaks out one night and plants the rosebush in the garden. The following morning, the upset owner of the garden, Molly Harper, tears the rosebush out of the ground, demanding to see the principal. When Georgie returns to the garden with the bush, he realizes that, while planting the rosebush in the dark, he accidentally squished the lilies that Molly’s husband had planted for her. Molly threatens Georgie, telling him that she will burn the rosebush if he attempts to plant it in her garden again. However, when Molly spots the infected lesions on Georgie’s back resulting from years of abuse, she relents. During the confrontation, Georgie faints from illness, falling unconscious. When he comes to, Georgie is beset with fever and delirium. Molly allows the rosebush to be replanted in her garden, often visiting Georgie as he rests and recovers. However, Georgie cannot get over Molly’s threat and refuses to see her as a result.
As Georgie begins to mend, he befriends Timothy, whom Sister Mary Angela refers to as her “public relations” boy. Timothy informs Georgie that Molly’s husband and elder son, Paul, recently died in auto accident. As a result, Molly finds it difficult to be around boys close to Paul’s age. Georgie also befriends Molly’s youngest son, Robin, who suffers severe brain damage. Molly’s father, Hugh Collier, visits Georgie and decides to teach him how to read. In turn, Georgie tries to teach the inaudible Robin to speak, joining him feeding ducks at the pond. As Georgie becomes closer to the Harper family, he begins spending time with their gardener, Old Eddie, as his apprentice. Still, Georgie can’t quite forgive Molly for threatening to burn his rosebush.
Sister Mary Angela holds auditions for the school choir, and Georgie is pleasantly surprised to learn he has perfect pitch. Molly and Robin go to listen to the choir. Georgie senses Molly’s grief and begins to feel deep sympathy for her. Even so, Georgie refuses to enroll in the drama course when he learns Molly will be teaching it. As an alternative, Georgie watches every drama class from the auditorium seats, committing each role in the play to memory. The knowledge pays off when a boy backs out of the play at last minute and Georgie replaces him as the Mad Hatter.
Georgie plays opposite Molly, Alice in the tea party segment of Alice in Wonderland
. While staying in character, Georgie is shocked to learn he is able to speak to Molly in a way he could not in real life. As a result, Georgie asks Molly if she is his real mother. Soon after, just as Georgie feels he can forgive Molly, tragedy strikes. One day, Robin goes to the pond alone to feed the ducks. Robin wonders into the pond and drowns. Rather than in the garden in front of the Harper’s house, Georgie decides to plant his rosebush at Robin’s grave. Molly agrees to this decision. The novel ends as Georgie and Molly forge a friendship through their mutual heartache.
Irene Hunt was an American children’s author most known for her historical novels. She was a Newbery Medal Award runner-up for her first novel, Across Five Aprils
, and won the award for her second novel, Up a Road Slowly
. Additional works include Trail of Apple Blossoms
, No Promises in the Wind
, Claws of a Young Century
, and The Everlasting Hills