Luck is a powerful thing. And it just so happens that everyone has a literal streak of luck running up their arms–several inches to use whenever and however they wish. Naturally, society esteems people with more of their line intact and shuns those with little or no luck left. It is, in short, a status symbol. The longer the line and the older the person, the better they are viewed by the world. Which is why Helena is scared to death of using any of her luck. Her own brother burned through his entire luck line as soon as he reached his majority. Now, the best job he can manage for himself is janitor and everyone from potential employers to his own parents have written him off as impulsive and unreliable. That will never be Helena. Not even if it means putting her dreams of being an artist on hold while she establishes a little financial security for herself.
Knowing how difficult life can be for someone with a bare naked arm, Helena is intrigued when a new programmer named Nadia starts working at the same company where Helena is a graphic designer. After a few judgmental comments from Helena’s friends, Helena feels compelled to apologize, only to discover that Nadia is anything but a failure, despite having zero luck left. Soon, the two women find themselves in the familiar patterns of being a couple. They hang out, share meals, and talk about their dreams. But when Helena’s parents call at an inopportune time, Nadia calls her girlfriend out for attempting to hide their relationship. Not only would Helena’s parents never approve of their daughter dating someone who’s already burned up all her luck, but Helena herself has the sneaking suspicion that Nadia traded her luck for a chance at making a name for herself in the online music business. It becomes more than a sore point…it becomes a breaking point. But when the truth about Nadia comes out, Helena will try anything to get the girl of her dreams back. Even if it takes all the luck in her world.
Luck Lines is a contemporary sapphic novella from author Quinn Tollens. It features two young adults falling in love for the first time. Helena is very prim and very much shaped by her conservative parents’ values. She is also very aware of how her luck-less brother is treated and seems to be blind to her own bias in how she views him as well. Until Nadia comes along and eventually blows away the fog of all the stereotypes Helena’s believed.
I really liked the idea of a universe where people had an amount of luck literally at their fingertips. I thought Tollens did an admirable job conveying the reality of what it would be like to live in this world–good and bad. No one gives a proper name to it, but the not-always-subtle exclusion and derision suffered by people without any of their luck left plays a big role in the book. It was easy to understand how and why Helena bought into the “if you have no luck, you’re just fucking irresponsible” idea. Through her relationship to Nadia, I felt like Helena does eventually come to appreciate the ridiculousness of valuing someone (or at least basing your first impressions of them) from the length of their luck line. Especially given there is literally no way to know why someone would have spent all their luck without good old fashioned talking to that person and trying to sympathize with them. Given this overt form of in-world prejudice, it was easy to watch Helena draw her own (erroneous) conclusions about why Nadia had no more luck…and just never think to check that her suppositions were at all true. And, of course, this is exactly at issue when Helena and Nadia fall out.
Helena and Nadia felt like pretty well rounded characters. Helena was clearly the one who had to go through a journey to find her sympathy and to confront her prejudice and her privilege. Helena’s ignorance and myopic perspective where people’s usage of their luck lines is concerned lent a certain air of schadenfreude to the story. Yes, I was a little excited that prideful Helena finally deigned to use a little bit of her luck. I was less excited about how this apparently monumental concession didn’t seem to ping on any other characters’ radars apart from Helena’s and Nadia’s. If nothing else, Helena found a way to try to reconcile with Nadia. And yes, Helena did quibble over the idea of what it meant to use luck (which, by the laws of this world, must somehow positively impact the user even if only momentarily or indirectly) to even just have a chance at getting back in Nadia’s good graces.
As far as the romance goes, I was less sold. I just felt like Helena and Nadia didn’t have any chemistry. The two women spent time together on page, but I got the impression each date-like vignette was designed to push the plot along. Their first date was a vehicle to establish Helena’s suspicion that Nadia used her luck to make her music popular online. Later on, the netflix and chill type dates seemed to reinforce Helena’s belief about the source of Nadia’s success, which caused Helena to angst over the morality of using luck for fame/money. When Nadia encouraged Helena to submit her paintings to galleries so Helena can start building a profile as a fine artist, Helena interpreted it as pressure to start using her impeccable luck line. Another stay-at-home-date focused on some friction between the two women that culminated in harsh words and ostensibly a breakup. Taken all together, I didn’t feel like I saw Nadia and Helena actually enjoying each other’s company. There always seemed to be Plot Things driving the action.
Overall, I thought the world building and plot really carried the book, but perhaps at the expense of developing a more dynamic couple. The characters were interesting as individuals, but didn’t seem to have any spark of attraction or desire for each other. I liked that Helena comes to terms with her prejudices and learns a lesson, even though it came with a price. I liked that Tollens touches on what the price might actually mean longer term, but manages to keep things light enough for a good old happily for now, if not forever for Helena and Nadia. If the premise of the book sounds interesting at all or if you’re interested in stories where a couple must contend with personal biases, then I think you’ll find something to enjoy in this book.