Struck by Lightning: The Carson Phillips Journal

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
Struck by Lightning: The Carson Phillips Journal Book Poster Image
Brilliantly funny, insightful, dark high school tragicomedy.

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 2 reviews

Kids say

age 14+
Based on 6 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Protagonist Carson is very well read and quite superior about it. One of the book's running jokes involves identifying the literary works that one of the characters plagiarizes, including Moby-Dick and A Tale of Two Cities. He also includes a lot of mathematical equations.

Positive Messages

While there's plenty of snarky cynicism and some messages about the futility of striving, there are also positive messages about seeing things from other people's viewpoints and having some compassion for what they're dealing with.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Carson isn't always the most laudable character when it comes to single-minded pursuit of his goals, to the exclusion of the effects on anyone else. But his love for his grandmother and his relentless determination to be what he ought to be, which doesn't exist in his hometown, are appealing and positive. Ditto his refusal to be beaten down by peer pressure. His growing ability to be kind and even form friendships is real but not overdone.


As Carson discovers, various characters are having sex with one another in sometimes-unlikely combinations that would get them in big trouble if they were discovered, which makes them easy blackmail fodder. The moments of discovery are often hilarious, crude, and slightly grotesque. Carson himself doesn't see much point in sex, since he has yet to see a positive example of a sexual relationship.


It's a rare page that doesn't have "s--t," "f--k," "ass," etc., and variations on the same.


Chris Colfer based the book on his own screenplay for the 2013 movie Struck by Lightning. The book includes a collection of stills from the movie, and the cover promotes the film. The book itself also includes many references to commercial products and pop icons, from Pepto-Bismol to The Hunger Games to Adele to Glee, but in context it's more about snide humor or scene-setting than product placement.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Carson's mother is perpetually wasted on alcohol and prescription drugs, which is both comic and horrific at different moments but never an inducement to try the lifestyle. One of the teens is a serious stoner, which is sometimes played for laughs. A discussion of kids being overmedicated for ADD leads to an unwelcome discovery.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Struck by Lightning is a YA novel by Glee's Chris Colfer, based on his screenplay for the January 2013 film in which he also stars. It's hilarious, brilliantly satirical, and tragicomically dark as it nails the pure toxicity of high-school culture in a dead-end small town. Those looking for the sweetness and innocent charm of Colfer's middle-grade novel, The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spellshould be forewarned that Struck is laced with profanity ("s--t," "f--k," "ass," and more); plus, various characters have sex with other characters, and the adults are, almost without exception, awful people. There's also drinking and teen drug use.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byDualApocoalypse September 23, 2018


This is a hilarious book about a boy trying to get into college
Parent of a 6-year-old Written byDuggarfarm December 21, 2012
Teen, 14 years old Written bymaxstseason3 April 25, 2021

Not as bad as Common Sense makes it out to be

I was a little worried that this was going to be really bad but it’s not. Nothing is in Detail and every bad part is skipable (I was able to skip it). If you... Continue reading
Kid, 12 years old April 18, 2019


Loved it! It was so fun, and I couldn’t put it down! There were some parts that aren’t for younger kids and teens, so that’s why it’s 13+. There are is a lot of... Continue reading

What's the story?

Carson Phillips lives in a dead-end town with his mother, who's spent the last decade getting depressed, drinking, and popping pills. The only thing that's kept Carson sane for 17 years is his lifelong determination to go to Northwestern University and ultimately be editor of The New Yorker. This vision sustains him through a lifetime at the bottom of his peers' pecking order. Then, suddenly, his admission to Northwestern seems to hinge on his ability to publish a literary magazine, and he must get all the classmates who hate him to write for it. What's a boy to do? Blackmail them into it -- and there's plenty of dirt to dish. Narrator/protagonist Carson isn't always the nicest person, but between his flaky absent father, his crazy mother, and his beloved grandmother -- who now has Alzheimer's and doesn't recognize him -- he has a lot to deal with.

Is it any good?

TV star and bestselling middle-grade author Chris Colfer adds to his stature as a multidimensional artist with the snarky, sardonic, profane, poignant STRUCK BY LIGHTNING. The novel brilliantly evokes the sense of being trapped in the wrong place when you know the right place is just within reach. While it cleverly mocks the cultural brain death of Carson's hometown and the toxic nastiness of high school culture, it also raises thought-provoking issues and imparts insights as its hero grows reluctantly wiser.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the culture of their own teens' high school. Is it like the one depicted here? What are the similarities? What other high school stories that you've read or seen in movies ring true to your experience? 

  • Does reading the Struck by Lightning book make you want to see the movie?

  • How do the characters' contributions to the literary magazine show sides of them that Carson seems not to have noticed?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love coming-of-age and school stories

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