and what we wish they were

Monthly Archives: May 2013

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I love it when I read a book that is engaging and thought provoking and that I can share with my kids. This is not that book. Reading Struck by Lightening was like watching The Breakfast Club, Ferris Beuller’s Day Off, and a host of other 80’s movies rolled into one. -but not in a good way but in a “this has been done over and over kind of way.”

Carson who is both the protagonist(sort of) and antagonist in this novel is a smart kid. And like all smart kids in teenage angst novels, he is a misfit. His parents are a nightmare. And everyone in his small town is an idiot. What an original concept! When Carson realizes he needs to create a literary magazine to secure his chances of getting into Northwestern he decides to blackmail all of his classmates into contributing to his publication. Luckily, this is not hard to do because all the cool kids at his school (coincidently the ones who have been torturing him since grade school) have dirty little secrets.

The head cheerleader is sleeping with the football coach. The son of the town’s richest, most respected citizen is having a homosexual affair with his best buddy. The yearbook editor likes to send pornographic photos of herself to strangers over the Internet. The sexy foreign exchange student is really from San Diego. And the goth girl’s baptist parents don’t know that she worships Satan. Blackmailing these kids is like shooting fish in a barrel.

Predictably, as each of these pathetic individuals turns in a submission, Carson comes to realize that everyone has problems. They don’t all have perfect lives or hearts of stone as he had assumed.  (Think less likable version of the football player and the prom queen in The Breakfast Club.) He actually does feel some sympathy for his victims – not enough to call off his plans but enough to make him not a complete sociopath.

What is not predictable about this book is the ending. I fully expected Carson to form some sort of bond with his peers, or maybe even end up kissing a former enemy – you know, like Emillio Estevez and Ally Sheedy just before Tears for Fears starts to sing. Instead, Carson doesn’t seem to give his new revelation a whole lot of thought. After all, he’s trying to get into Northwestern. Who has time for a conscience?

We do see some change in Carson when he finds out his drunk, depressed mother has thrown away his acceptance letter, and he’ll have to stay in his hometown and go to community college with all the other losers. At first he is devastated that all of his hard, dirty work was for nothing, but eventually decides that he will rise above his circumstances and make the best of things. He’s not going to let these idiots get the better of him. Just when we see a glimmer of hope for our young, errrr ummm, hero, he gets struck by lightening as he’s leaving the high school and dies.  I’m serious. That’s how it ends. I think Colfer was trying to be funny and ironic. Or maybe he just ran out of snarky things for his main character to say. Either way, I was both annoyed and relieved.

All and all I thought Struck by Lightening was a horrible book. But I’m not gonna lie. I laughed out loud more than once. Colfer did manage a few observations about teenage life that were spot on, and the homecoming float scene in which Phillip and his sidekick dress up as a notebook and pencil is particularly hilarious.  I thought it was funny, but my kids will not be reading it.

LANGUAGE
YES! All the really bad ones.

VIOLENCE
No.

SEXUAL CONTENT
Yep. What’s a good blackmail plan without the sex to back it up.

SUPERNATURAL ELEMENTS
None.  These people are entirely Godless.

FUNNY/INSIGHTFUL QUOTES

“Can I please just say that it has been scientifically proven that teenagers learn and test better when they go to school later in the day?  Which I suppose would be taken into consideration if school wasn’t really just a government-funded day care meant to keep kids occupied.  (I don’t know about you, but I’m most prone to committing crimes between the hours of 6:00 am and 3:00 pm).  Thumbs up!”

“She struggles with concentration, metabolism, and plagiarism…but who’s perfect.?”

“What grinds me the most is that we are sending kids out into the world who don’t know how to balance a checkbook, don’t know how to apply for a loan, don’t even know how to properly fill out a job application, but because they know the quadratic formula we consider them prepared for the world.”

“I wonder how much I could get done if I wasn’t in the way.”


I downloaded the audio of The One and Only Ivan after reading about it in my Chinaberry Books catalog.  It looked like a cute story and the right length for a three hour drive alone. Perfect. I plugged in my iPhone and took off.  It was a lovely, heart-warming way to spend my time in the car.

The One and Only Ivan is the story of as silverback gorilla who spends most of his life alone in a cage as a shopping mall attraction.  His only companions are an elephant, a stray dog, and the daughter of the mall janitor.  His only entertainment is a television (when his owner remembers to turn it on), and his art supplies (crayons and paper).  Ivan is an artist.  His owner provides Ivan with crayons and paper, not because he recognizes Ivan’s gift, but because he can sell Ivan’s drawings for twenty a bucks a piece in the mall gift shop.

Fortunately for Ivan, Julia, the janitor’s daughter, does recognize his gift, and she sneaks him paints.  Little does Julia know, however, that Ivan will use the paints to help help Ruby, a baby elephant and the mall’s newest attraction.  Ivan has become used to life in his lonely “habitat.”  It’s not in his nature, nor in the nature of gorillas in general, to complain.  But he does know that Ruby deserves better – the chance at a life with other elephants.  He also made a promise to a special friend that he would save Ruby.

I tend to be skeptical of animal stories that garner sympathy for the animals by making all the humans look cruel and greedy or stupid and insensitive. This novel doesn’t fall into that trap.  Even Ivan’s owner is more pathetic than cruel, and most of the humans he encounters are kind.

The One and Only Ivan is a beautiful, touching story, about friendship, determination, and kindness. And that alone would make it a wonderful book, but it is actually based (although loosely) on the story of the real Ivan – a gorilla who really did live most of his life alone in a mall cage.

The real Ivan’s story did have a happy ending.  You can read about his life on the Atlanta Zoo page.

VIOLENCE

The story of Ivan’s capture and the deaths of his parents and sister might be upsetting for some younger readers.

LANGUAGE

None

SUPERNATURAL ELEMENTS

None

SEXUAL CONTENT

None

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION

– Do animal have feelings?

-As humans what is our responsibility to animals?

-Are zoos a good thing or are they cruel?  How about circuses?