Reading by Lightning by Joan Thomas, published by Goose Lane Editions, is the story of Lily Piper, a farm girl from the Canadian prairies. Her family and neighbors are very religious, making sure they are ready for Jesus to pluck the righteous souls off the earth and bring them to Heaven. Lily doesn't live up to her mother's expectations, and she worries about being left behind. She doesn't have a great relationship with her mother, but she's close to her father even though he is a bit distant.
Lily spends a lot of time imagining her father's journey from England to Canada as part of the Barr Colony, a failed Utopian venture. Lily imagines how things played out, piecing together the tales of Joe Pye, who accompanied her dad on the voyage and now works on the family farm. Lily is not entirely happy on the farm, and when her father agrees to send her to England to care for her grandmother after the death of her grandfather, she is given the chance to become someone she wouldn't be on the prairies. She goes to school, takes a new interest in her appearance, and falls in love with her eccentric adopted cousin George.
While in England, World War II breaks out, and George is conscripted (drafted). Lily spends much of her time waiting for letters from George and waiting to see him again. WWII was a major theme beginning at the halfway point of the book. Thomas doesn't take us into battle, but focuses on the bombings in England, the ways the war altered everyday life for people on the home front, and how the war changed women's roles in the workforce, for instance.
Thomas' writing is beautiful, and there is a sadness to it, especially after Lily is called back to the farm in Canada. (See the quote at the beginning of my review.) Only a great writer can make the reader feel the emotions of the characters, and I felt a heaviness reading Lily's thoughts about returning to her old life where things were expected to go back to the way they were.
There are several plot points that carry the story, but Reading by Lightning is more about the characters, particularly Lily and her mother and their strained relationship. The setting, whether Canada or England, also plays a prominent role in the book, and Thomas' descriptions of the prairies and the Piper farm make them come alive. Reading by Lightning is a fast read, an emotional, wonderfully written coming-of-age story.
Reading by Lightning also was reviewed by:
Savvy Verse & Wit
If you've also reviewed it, let me know in the comments, and I'll add your link!
******Reading by Lightning is one of the books I selected for the WWII Reading Challenge I'm co-hosting with Serena from Savvy Verse & Wit. Please visit War Through the Generations for more information. There's still time to participate.
Disclosure: I received a free copy of Reading by Lightning from Goose Lane Editions for review purposes.