There are times when you can be reading a book and from the first few pages you know that it is going to be great. This was one of those books. I have a feeling that it will resonate with kids for a long time.
Lucy Callahan was struck by lightning. She doesn’t remember it, but it changed her life forever. The zap gave her genius-level math skills, and ever since, Lucy has been homeschooled. Now, at 12 years old, she’s technically ready for college. She just has to pass 1 more test — middle school!
Lucy’s grandma insists: Go to middle school for 1 year. Make 1 friend. Join 1 activity. And read 1 book (that’s not a math textbook!). Lucy’s not sure what a girl who does calculus homework for fun can possibly learn in 7th grade. She has everything she needs at home, where nobody can make fun of her rigid routines or her superpowered brain. The equation of Lucy’s life has already been solved. Unless there’s been a miscalculation?
Susan McAnulty has managed to capture a number of feelings that kids go through with middle school embodied in the main characters of Lightning Girl. The fact that Lucy is a math genius just happens to be the unusual personality trait that she has, that she feels marks her as different, and that she doesn’t want known. When her grandmother forces her to go to middle school for one year, make one friend, join one activity, and read one non-math book it seems like an overwhelming obstacle that she will not be able to accomplish.
Writing about feeling left out is something that deserves a bit more attention. McAnulty used hyperbole by making Lucy a savant as well as severely OCD, but the reality is that we have all felt left out or strange at some point in our lives. It is especially challenging in middle school when cliques are being formed and identities are being shaped. Having a character like Maddie who also uses peoples’ weaknesses as a part of her power, is the normal “mean girl” character we have all come to expect in a novel like this.
The thing that touched me about this novel is how realistic Lucy is even with all of her quirks. She feels more comfortable online where there is anonymity and where she can surround herself with people who also like math. But when Lucy does make friends, they are the best kind of friends. Windy only sees the good in people. This world could use a few more people like her. She becomes Lucy’s first friend because it is easy for her to just see past Lucy’s quirks. Levi is a kind and quiet boy who struggles in math, but who has a big heart. He probably knows what it is like to feel different since he has two moms, something that is mentioned briefly and not deeply (because it doesn’t need to be). While Windy is able to see past Lucy’s eccentricities, Levi starts to understand them and figures out how to help her.
Lucy had to go through the experience of middle school. Even though there are a lot of kids being home schooled these days, I think they should all experience middle school for at least one year, it will help them actually negotiate life. We have to be strong. We have to learn to have a thick skin and not let people find ways to push our buttons (and how to deal with it when they do). We have to learn how to stand up for ourselves. We have to learn how to work as a team. Lucy has to learn how to ask for help and to know that she doesn’t have all of the answers – that is something that a lot of people need help with.
I highly recommend this book for kids 4th grade and up.
I have been having a lot of fun with Middle Grade Monday. Sometimes it is hard to also balance them with the “adult” books that I have to read, but MG fiction often leaves a bigger mark. Are there any great MG books that you have read that I should make sure are on my radar?