Struck by Lightning: The Carson Phillips Journal Book Poster Image

Struck by Lightning: The Carson Phillips Journal



Brilliantly funny, insightful, dark high school tragicomedy.

What parents need to know

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

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.

Not applicable

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.

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.

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.

Families can talk 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

Author:Chris Colfer
Topics:Friendship, High school, Misfits and underdogs
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Little, Brown and Company
Publication date:November 20, 2012
Number of pages:272
Publisher's recommended age(s):15 - 18
Available on:Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle

This review of Struck by Lightning: The Carson Phillips Journal was written by

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Teen, 14 years old Written byMiniStarNinjaKid January 5, 2013

ready to go

I got this book for christmas from a friend who loves glee, we had talk about going to see the movie when it comes out. I read this book and I thought it was very dark, cynical, and emotional. still good, but dark. As an 8th grader, I'm on the brink of high school, scared, and small. It made me not so sure if i am ready for high school. This book showed the dark side of high school. There were hook-ups, swearing, and gays, but i guess that's what life has. I admit Carson was cruel to go and do all of this, but part of the message of the book was to never lose sight of the dream. Overall, good book.
What other families should know
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Teen, 14 years old Written by8rebel24 December 28, 2012

Older teens will love it!

A perfect, dark comedy told from the point of view of a sarcastic, cynical teenage boy. Chris Colfer amazes with this darkly funny story about a young man desperate to escape his small-minded home town. I don't know about you people, but I know how he feels. Perfect for older teens.
What other families should know
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much consumerism
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Teen, 13 years old Written byNomacop January 1, 2013

struck by lightning

Its a really good book thats unique and easy to get through.
What other families should know
Educational value
Too much sex
Too much swearing