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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors

Writers are told to 'write what they know' so it's no surprise to discover that Michele Young-Stone is a lightning strike survivor. She titled her first published novel The Handbook for Lightning Survivors, and it's an emotional powerhouse of a book.

Using the conceit of placing a 'book within a book', one of the main characters, Buckley, a young man, has written a non-fiction book titled The Handbook for Lightning Survivors. Parts of his book are sprinkled within the novel, which tells the story of Buckley, who has had brushes with lightning strikes, and Becca, who has been struck twice by lightning.

Becca was struck by lightning as a young child, but her parents didn't believe her because she did not appear to be harmed. When a photograph of Becca appears to have a halo of light around her, her mother starts to believe it may be true. She is struck again when she is teenager, but this time, her boyfriend witnesses the strike.

Becca loves her father, who leaves his wife Mary. Mary falls apart, drinking, taking pills, ignoring her daughter. Becca turns to creating art, and indiscriminate sex, to deal with her emotions.

Although the story is about Becca, an actual lightning strike survivor, Buckley is a survivor in a different manner. His obese mother marries a shady, lazy man, who mistreats Buckley in the name of 'toughening him up'. When Buckley's mom has had enough, she leaves her husband behind with her mother and starts a new life with Buckley far away.

They meet another type of survivor, Paddy John, a Vietnam war vet, who has more than a few problems. But he falls in love with Buckley's mom, and his courtship of her is tender and sweet. Their relationship, and Buckley with his mom's, is the heart of this moving story.

How can you not love a young boy, of whom is written,
Buckley wanted a lot of things, but at the top of his list was for his mother to be happy. It seemed to him that she was always sad. She was a good mom- never a mean word crossed her lips- but like Buckley, she seldom smiled. She was fat, and it was hard for Buckley when they went places to hear people snicker and know she heard it too.

Within the novel are parts of Buckley's book, mostly statistics and anecdotes from lightning strike survivors. One mantra that is repeated is
TREAT THE APPARENTLY DEAD FIRST. Most lightning strike fatalities are caused by cardiac arrest.
The importance of this advice becomes apparent by the end of the novel.

Stone-Young is a wonderful writer. She weaves Buckley's book and the novel together with skill, and her characters are complex and drawn with compassion. You feel that you know these people, and Buckley and Paddy John are two of my favorite characters in contemporary literature.

I look forward to Stone-Young's next effort; she has a talent for creating characters who stay in your heart long after you finish the book. It's also no surprise that this is a Shaye Areheart imprint; her imprint always means a quality book. It's a shame that her imprint is no more.

Rating 5 of 5 stars

Thanks to the publisher for providing a NetGalley copy for review.

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