Book Talk: The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Talk: The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnultyThe Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty
Published by Listening Library on May 8, 2018
Genres: Contemporary
Format: Audiobook
Source: Publisher
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Middle school is the one problem Lucy Klein can't solve in this middle grade novel perfect for fans of The Fourteenth Goldfish, Fish in a Tree, and Counting By Sevens.

Lucy Klein was struck by lightning. She doesn't remember it, but it changed her forever. An acquired savant, Lucy has genius-level math skills. In fact, at twelve-years-old, home-schooled Lucy has already passed high school. But before she can go to college, her grandmother insists Lucy pass one more test: middle school! Lucy doesn't understand why she needs middle school when she's already doing college professor-level math. But grandma insists she give it one year; make one friend; join one activity; and read one book (that isn't a math textbook!) Lucy knows she'll hate it; she already gets everything she needs online. But is it possible she miscalculated?

No miscalculations here! Loveable characters + energetic plot + STEM connections = One big hit!

For the past few years of reviewing for Penguin Random House Audio, I’ve tried a lot of books that I otherwise would not have. Some turn out exactly as you might expect: okay but not great because there’s a reason I wasn’t interested in it originally. Sometimes, though, I’m able to enjoy stories I would have missed out on, as is the case with The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl.  I really didn’t expect this book to be so entertaining and heart-wrenching.

As a child, Lucy was struck by lightning, an experience which left her an acquired savant, a math genius. When the novel opens, Lucy’s completed high school coursework and feels ready to move on to college. Her grandmother, however, puts her foot down: Lucy needs to spend a year in middle school before going to college. See, Lucy’s been home-schooled, and grandma wants to her to make friends and gain social skills before sending her off to college.

This book got me right in the feels, because I empathized with Lucy so much. Middle school is the absolute worst, at least it was for me, and I know the same goes for a lot of people. It’s the age when people begin to get really cruel and cliques become much harder-edged. It’s the age when society’s messages about what’s acceptable and “cool” overwhelms any remaining innocence. Young children don’t have an innate feeling that being different is wrong, but by middle school that has very much been taught to most kids.

Lucy’s goal is to pretend to be normal, which breaks my heart. She doesn’t want anyone to figure out that she’s a genius, because she knows that will just make people hate her more (sadly, true), and she already stands out because of her OCD. Immediately upon starting in school, Lucy gains negative attention for her OCD, which manifests in a need to sit/stand/sit/stand/sit to prevent the digits of pi from taking over her brain and a major fear of germs. The most popular girl in class makes fun of her on that first day, naming her the “cleaning lady” because she cleans everything she touches with Clorox wipes. I faced bullying in elementary and middle school, and The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl really captured that feeling of being the freak, the one no one will want to partner with on a group project or play with.

However, Lucy does make friends, and it’s so cute, although also sometimes frustrating in that way that middle school friendships are. All the kids in this book are so insecure, even the ones with bunches of friends. They’re all exposed nerve endings, afraid to reveal too much real feeling for fear of judgment, most of them hiding beneath a wall of harsh words. Windy, Lucy’s first friend, is the complete opposite of that; she’s this slightly annoying but also very endearing open book, the kind of girl who can’t keep a secret because she says everything she thinks. Levi, Lucy’s other friend, is irascible and utters these great sarcastic one-liners under his breath constantly, so obvs he’s my fave.

Much as the behavior of some of the kids was infuriating, McAnulty shows where some of that aggression is coming from. Maddie’s mom browbeats her about her weight constantly. Lucy’s English teacher on the other hand has absolutely no excuse for being awful. One of Lucy’s OCD behaviors is a need to count all the words and letters before she can read a text, but her teacher just punishes and judges for Lucy’s difficulties reading aloud. A good teacher would have pushed in a healthy, supportive way, like Lucy’s math teacher does throughout, rather than tearing her down and shaming her publicly.

Warning: there’s a very sad subplot about a dog. Spoiler: the dog doesn’t die (yet). But it’s very, very sad, and my heart could not deal. Lucy, Levi and Windy do a community service project at a local animal shelter, where they befriend a very sweet dog. Things end somewhat happily, but wow was there a dose of real world pain I wasn’t expecting from the resolution of a middle grade novel.

The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl truly captures the stress and insecurity of middle school better than anything I’ve read thus far. The voice is delightful and relatable despite the fact that I’m absolutely not a genius at math.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

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