Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Reading by Lightning by Joan Thomas

I'll never know what I missed that day, the awkwardness, false starts, the faulty satisfactions. I'll never know what I missed and I'll never have it now. There's a difference between what I try to make true and what is. (from Reading by Lightning, page 314)

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.


Serena said...

what does this make two books you've read for the challenge...boy i am getting further behind...lol

no worries though. I have this on the TBR list for the month...I will get to it eventually.

Darlene said...

Wow, you're doing awesome on the War Challenge and it's only the beginning of the year. I didn't completely read your review only browsed to see if you liked it because you know I'll be reading it soon. It's on my list for right after Sarah's Key the beginning of Febuary. I am anxious to read it and I'll be back once I have.

Megan said...

Sounds like a good read! I'll definitely have to check this one out. Thanks for the great review.

Iliana said...

That's a great quote. Enjoyed your review, Anna. And, hey, way to go on the challenge!

Jeanette said...

Wow, sounds like a very interesting book. I will have to look for this one.

Teddy Rose said...

Wonderful review Anna! This one is on my TBR. It sounds like a good character study.

Melwyk said...

I have this book sitting on the night table right now - it's a library copy so you've just inspired me to get to it before I have to take it back. I loved the title and the cover, but I'm glad to have your opinion on the story!

tanabata said...

This sounds great! From the description a little like a cross between A Complicated Kindness and How I Live Now. It's going on my wishlist.

Literary Feline said...

I've been wanting to read this one since I first heard about it. I am so glad you enjoyed it, Anna.

Anna said...

Serena: I have so many books I want to read for the challenge that I have to keep up! Can't wait for your thoughts on this book.

Dar: Thanks! I'm looking forward to your thoughts on this one as well.

Megan: Let me know if you get a chance to read this one. I'd love to know what you think.

Iliana: Thanks! I figured that quote showed the sadness that I felt while reading the book.

Jeanette: I hope you get a chance to read it!

Teddy Rose: Thanks! It's a great for those who like character-driven novels.

Melanie: I hope you get a chance to read it before it's due back! Let me know what you think if you do!

Tanabata: I've never heard of the books you mentioned, but I'll look in to them. Thanks!

Literary Feline: I bet you'd enjoy this one!