The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl

Book review by
Darienne Stewart, Common Sense Media
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Math whiz gets out of comfort zone in smart, touching story.

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

Educational Value

Enthusiastic portrayal of math as a way to understand and appreciate the world, including explanations of pi and the Fibonacci sequence plus references to optimal stopping theory, the Riemann hypothesis, and the Hodge conjecture. Shows challenges and rewards of reaching outside of comfort zones and building social connection. Compassionate presentation of living with obsessive compulsive disorder. Depicts what it's like to be able to see numbers as colors and shapes, though it doesn't identify that by name as synesthesia.

Positive Messages

Strong message on accepting people as they are and making an effort to understand them without trying to change them. When you're outside your comfort zone, it may help to "fake it 'til you make it." It's important to ask for help when you need it. Most kids feel like they don't fit it in during middle school, and the everyday dramas are almost always transitory. Knowing the path can be as important as knowing the solution. Your choices are more important than your abilities. It's important to advocate for yourself and others, and to negotiate boundaries. Not all problems are solvable.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Lucy enjoys using her talent to help others with math and to figure out how to improve an animal shelter's adoption rates. She grows to appreciate classmates who extend kindnesses to her, and she tries to make amends for being mean to another. Lucy's grandmother and uncle provide her with a devoted, strong support system, and her math teacher is warm and engaged. Her new friends are generously empathetic: Windy is considerate, taking Lucy's peculiarities in stride and seeing the positive aspects, while Levi is honest and accepting, holding Lucy's trust and providing support when she feels most vulnerable. Both Levi and Windy stand up for Lucy when she's publicly targeted.

Violence & Scariness
Language

Some name-calling: "jerk" and "moron."

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl is about a home-schooled math whiz with obsessive compulsive disorder trying to get by in middle school. Written by Stacy McAnulty (Goldie Blox Rules the School!), the story celebrates the way Lucy's love for math shapes the way she views the world. Her OCD is portrayed as a quirk she chooses to accommodate, with just a brief mention of it as a treatable condition. Middle school drama includes mean girls and a shortsighted teacher. One child has two moms, another feels like a misfit in her family, and another is pressured by her mom about her body image. Lucy's grandma and uncle are her closest family since her mom died of cancer and her father abandoned the family. Lucy tries to save a terminally ill dog from being put down.

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What's the story?

In THE MISCALCULATIONS OF LIGHTNING GIRL, Lucy survived a lightning strike that left her with genius-level math talent -- and obsessive compulsive disorder. She's only 12 and capable of starting college, but her grandmother enrolls her in middle school to spend time with kids her age. Though Lucy downplays her math skills to try to fit in, she can't hide her OCD routines from snickering classmates. She falls into friendship with kind Windy, who wants to save the world, and cynical Levi, who regards everyone through his camera lens. As they work together on a service project at a local shelter, Lucy struggles to unlock the right formula to manage the everyday ups and downs of middle school.

Is it any good?

In her remarkable, heartfelt first middle-grade book, Stacy McAnulty shares the beauty and joy of math alongside the illogic of trying to calculate teh best path to navigate relationships and life. The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl sets up a fantastic premise -- a girl whose brain was rewired by a lightning strike -- and builds to a sweet, satisfying payoff. Lucy feels alone but shares the worries of every middle-schooler: wanting to be her unique self without being seen as different. Aside from the cookie-cutter mean-girl melodrama, the novel is enriched by diverse, authentic supporting characters who have their own challenges.

Even the math-averse will appreciate how McAnulty (Earth! My First 4.54 Billion Years) describes Lucy's perspective, where numbers are a colorful canvas and patterns bring comfort and understanding. This is a wonderful book to inspire readers to see the world -- and the people in it -- with fresh eyes.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Lucy uses math as a tool to cope with anxiety in The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl. What helps you settle down when you're anxious?

  • What kind of "soft skills" do you think you're learning in school and other activities with people your age?

  • When Lucy lashes out at others online, they block her. What tools do you use to avoid mean or aggressive people on social media?

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