Struck by Lightning by Chris Colfer
Carson Phillips goes to high school in a small town. He lives at home with his mother, who seems to be perpetually high on one type of prescription pill or the other. He’s not popular at school and he’s not afraid to speak his mind. Somehow, Carson inherited teaching the newspaper class, which he isn’t sure is legal. Every month, he tries to get another paper out, but it’s difficult with his lackluster crew of newspaper writers, who are only in the class because they need another credit to graduate.
Carson is doing all of this in hopes of going to the college he has picked out. He hopes to get an early acceptance letter. On advice of the school guidance counselor, Carson takes on the monumental task of creating a literary magazine. There’s a problem though–no one wants to write for it. It’s not until his friend and fellow newspaper writer shows him some candid footage of one of his fellow students and a coach that he gets the idea to blackmail people into writing for his magazine. Once Carson hatches this plan, he creates a hit list of whom to target. Eventually, Carson gets a wide range of students to participate, albeit unwillingly for the most part, even the cheerleaders and football team.
Carson is still waiting on his acceptance letter when the magazine is completed. A crushing blow soon comes down on Carson after riding a high, then another low for speaking his mind, which brings him to the bottom. One of his fellow student writers asked him how to get ideas for writing and Carson says it was almost like being struck by lightning, which turns out to be oddly appropriate.
What I liked
This was actually quite a good book. I haven’t read anything of Chris’s before, that I know of. I know one of my friends loves the Land of Stories books, which Chris has also authored. Carson is a funny kid, although, he might strike you as that kid that’s a smart ass about everything and could potentially be a pain to deal with. He’s got determination in spades, or shovels, whatever.
He is able to inspire a group of students that might not otherwise be inspired. I don’t have a lot of faith in the public school system, so anytime someone real, or fictional, manages to inspire kids in a high school to be creative is a win for the world.
Carson complains about the small town he lives in, for its lack of culture and lack of anything. I know the kind of town Carson is speaking of because I grew up in one. I can’t imagine having stayed there. I left. I’m not terribly far away in the grand scheme of things, but I didn’t stay in the same town. There are a large majority of people in small towns like Carson’s, and mine, that get born there and they just stay. They get sucked into the same small-town politics and culture that their families are caught up in and they never really become anything other than small-town-Amy, or whoever. Their entire being, and entire societal status, is pivoted on the idea of their belonging to a small town. If they ever left, their small town status wouldn’t really mean a darn thing.
I sympathize with Carson because I wanted to get away from my small town as well. Staying in a small town like that can be torture; let’s not mix words about this. You can be held back by staying in a small place. Sometimes you have to just leave what you’re familiar with and go find yourself something else in life. I’m not saying New York City or anything, but sometimes, you just need to leave. If you don’t get out, you’ll smother under a small town culture that might not accept you.
Carson’s classmates, quite a few of them, thought Carson was bonkers for wanting something more than small town life. In many cases, these are the same people who brag about not finishing an entire book in their lives. While small town life has its securities, which Carson is certainly aware of, leaving can leave you open to being ridiculed or even failing at what you’re trying to do. Does that mean you shouldn’t do it?
What I didn’t like
I don’t want to give away the ending of this story. It’s good, but be prepared.
As I don’t want to really give away anything about this book, because it’s a good book and you should read it, I’m going to have trouble explaining something about this book that I didn’t like.
Let me try to simply it–Carson’s mother is not supportive of his dream to go out into the greater world.
Look, yes, maybe your kid tells you that they want to go live in China and start a Buddhist temple with Justin Bieber, or whatever; I know it doesn’t make sense, but go with me. It’s probably not going to come true. You can certainly advise your kid that the logistics of this are tricky. It would never happen for the majority of people. There are certain things in the world that might prevent this from happening. These are all valid things you can tell your child. What you should not do to your child is actively do something that prevents them from realizing this dream. Let’s say they start attending a Buddhist class some time during the week. It would be wrong of you to keep them home when they were really hoping to go to these classes and learn about Buddhism.
Look, if all child-hood dreams came true, I’d be stick-thin and married to Taylor Hanson in a house I designed myself, that obviously didn’t happen. Children are either going to realize their dreams or realize that their not possible on their own.
I like Carson.
Could you start a literary magazine?
Would you try to prevent your child from carrying out a dream, even though you knew for sure it wasn’t going to be possible?