Sunday, July 4, 2010

Review: The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors by Michele Young-Stone


The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors
by Michele Young-Stone
Shaye Areheart Books, April 2010, 372 pages.
ARC received from publisher.

Description on ARC*:

The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors follows two lost souls separated by time and place, from the moment lightning changes their lives until the day it ceases to define them.

On a sunny day in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Becca Burke, flame-haired daughter of Mary and Rowan Burke, was struck by lightning.  She was eight years old. No one believed her, even when her watch kept losing time and a spooky halo of light appeared over her head in every photograph taken after the strike. She was hit again when she was sixteen.  Becca survived, but over time she would learn that outsmarting lightning was the least of her concerns.

Buckley R. Pitank was always very attractive to bullies, including his pseudo-evangelical stepfather, the Reverend John Whitehouse.  When he escaped with his mother to glorious Galveston, Texas, at thirteen, it seemed his luck was changing.  But when Buckley loses the love of his life to a lightning strike, his quest to understand the power of lightning will lead him around the country and into the heart of a young woman who once thought she was alone in the world.

My Review: 

I wasn’t prepared for The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors. This story is much darker than I thought from the description above. It’s not a romance or an uplifting story or a book I could fall in love with.  It’s a gripping tale about two children living separate lives, Buckley in Arkansas and Becca in North Carolina. They both grow up in dysfunctional families and become scarred from lightning in different ways.  Most of the adults in this novel are downright selfish, focusing only on their needs, wants, biases.  I particularly couldn’t stand Becca’s parents.  Definitely not good role models for any kid, I don’t envy Becca or Buckley’s situations.  They are confronted by heart-wrenching issues including a parent’s adultery, the pressures (and addictions) of drugs/sex, and surviving the pains of death, grief, heartbreak and (of course) lightning strikes.  

It took longer to read this book than I initially thought it would.  For me, it was hard to get through the first 100-and-some pages.  We meet so many friends and families members, it was sometimes difficult to keep track of the characters (i.e. wait, who’s grandma is this again?...oh, okay that one).  Buckley is slightly older than Becca so the timeline jumps around throughout the book and begins in the 1960s stretching until the 1990s.  At times, it didn’t really feel like a YA novel to me because of the frequent drug use, cursing and casual sex (I’m talking about the adults and our two main characters) sugar coating, not something I’d recommend for younger readers.  Half way through, I had to stop to ask myself, “Is this a book I actually want to read?” Finally, Becca and Buckley’s separate worlds SLOWLY begin to merge...first with locations and then minor characters (friends-of-friends) until the inevitable meeting.   

Each chapter begins with an excerpt from The Handbook of Lightning Strike Survivors, either an anecdote, “fact”, or advice on surviving lightning.  It a unique way to break up the alternating chapters between Buckley and Becca’s story lines.  I have to say that it was great finding out who narrated these excerpts.

Not until the end could I appreciate all the earlier details.  Readers must endure the pain to understand and grow with these characters.  The ending was poignant and I got teary-eyed.  Even though I questioned reading this book, I’m glad I stuck with it for the compelling ending.  I love YA fantasy, and I like to take chances on books outside my reading comfort zone.  The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors challenged me in this way. Michele Young-Stone, a lightning strike survivor herself, created a forceful story and I can understand why other readers might love it.

My rating: 3/5  

For more information on the book, check out Michele Young-Stone's website (for the book trailer) and blog.

* I used the ARC's description because Amazon doesn't really feature a product description but has reviews and an excerpt. I think the Goodreads description gives away too many details.

1 comment:

  1. You won River Secrets by Shannon Hale over on Fire and Ice! Congrats and email me your address :)