THE HANDBOOK OF LIGHTNING STRIKE SURVIVORS by Michele Young-Stone

Book Quote:

“She thought about the summer’s end, another boring school year about to begin, about the dried blood caked on her knee – and her world exploded. It cracked open and Becca fell inside a whiteness that erased everything: the driveway, the tree, the long summer’s day, the blood, and the ice cream. For a time, the world was blank. She was still.

She woke up, her fingertips tingling, her head full of static, raindrops only now wetting her legs. She knew she’d been struck by lightning. There was never a question.”

Book Review:

Review by Bonnie Brody  (NOV 02, 2010)

Michele Young-Stone’s debut novel, The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors has, at its premise, the impact of lightning strikes on people and their loved ones. It is primarily about a young woman named Becca who comes from a dysfunctional family with an alcoholic mother and a philandering father. It is also about Buckley who loves his mother very much but is filled with guilt and remorse about his life.

The novel starts out with both Buckley and Becca as children. Their stories are told in alternate chapters. Becca is growing up in North Carolina with a mother who is passed out much of the time from booze and pills. Her father is cheating on her mother with the babysitter and just about anyone else he can lay his hands on. When Becca is about five years old, she gets struck by lightning in her driveway.  She lives to tell her parents who don’t believe her. But strange things begin to happen to her. Photographs of her have auras around her head, watches that she wears go backwards instead of forwards and she sees things that no one else is privy to, such as dead people. She also has premonitions. When Becca is a teenager, she is struck again by lightning, once again surviving. She also feels responsible for the death of her grandmother’s dog due to a lightning strike. She feels cursed and hunted by lightning. The only way she can get her demons out is through art, and she paints with a passion.

Buckley grows up in a desolate part of Arkansas that has not seen rain in six years. He is an outcast who is made fun of by other children. He has an obese mother that he loves very much but who embarrasses him. He also has a grandmother named Winter who is mean-hearted, not the type of grandmother a child would wish for. Buckley wishes for acceptance and a new life. His mother, Abigail, dreams of a life near the ocean. Abigail marries a local fundamentalist minister and Buckley’s life goes from bad to worse. The minister is critical, harsh, and nothing Buckley does can please him. On top of this, Abigail does not love her husband. Abigail packs up and she and Buckley head for Galveston, Texas where they make new lives for themselves by the ocean. By this time, Abigail has lost over 100 pounds because she’s been so unhappy in her marriage. In Galveston, they both are happy. Buckley is popular, he’s remade himself, and has a surrogate grandmother and father he loves. Abigail falls in love with a man who is supportive of Buckley. Unfortunately, Abigail is hit by lightning and dies.

After Abigail’s death, Buckley feels like he can no longer stay in Galveston. He feels guilt and shame for not saving his mother and he wants to suffer. For this reason, he heads back to Arkansas to live with the Minister and his Grandmother Winter. Life again is miserable for him but it is what he wants. Without his mother, he does not feel entitled to happiness.

The novel goes through the childhoods and young adult years of both Becca and Buckley. Becca heads to New York to go to art school and ends up having an affair with her art teacher. When he tries to dump her, she threatens to call his wife and spill the beans about the affair unless he lands her an art show. Becca is not one to mess with. She lands a solo show in a decent gallery and her work is mainly of fish who have been forced out of the sea after lightning strikes. By trying to paint lightning, she hopes to shed her own demons. Her show is successful. Meanwhile, after leaving college, Buckley heads for New York where he works in a restaurant washing dishes for eight years. His path crosses with Becca’s and they feel an immediate connection.

All his adult years, Buckley has been writing a book called The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors. He types his book on an old standard manual typewriter, not even electric. Pages of his book are interspersed between each chapter. The book gives advice on where most lightning strikes occur, ways to avoid lightning strikes, survivors’ guilt, post-traumatic stress disorder, and the like. It is a helpful book for anyone who has ever been hit by lightning or knows someone who has been hit.

Because this is a debut novel, it has many of the characteristics that first novels often have – plot driven, stylistic inconsistencies, and not enough depth characterization. However, it holds the reader’s interest because of the topic and events that unfold. Young-Stone’s books is part magical realism and part narrative driven. I expect good work from her in the future and look forward to her next publication.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-5from 25 readers
PUBLISHER: Crown (April 13, 2010)
REVIEWER: Bonnie Brody
AVAILABLE AS A KINDLE BOOK? YES! Start Reading Now!
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Michele Young-Stone
EXTRAS: Reading Guide and Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: More unique premises:The Vanishing of Katharine Linden by Helen Grant

The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris

Bibliography:


November 2, 2010 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: ,  · Posted in: Contemporary, Debut Novel, Family Matters, Humorous, New York City, US South

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