Set in Odessa, Texas in 1928, this story, which is filled with both action and emotion, is an engrossing tale about two young boys coming of age against a backdrop of small-town life, where there are kind and caring folks but also many who are prejudiced, petty, and narrow-minded.
James’s father has been killed by a lightning strike, his mother is in jail, and his beloved grandmother has recently died, leaving his loving, competent grandfather to do the best he can to bring James up by himself. James’s unstable family background has made him the target of bullying and abuse in school and, occasionally, in town. He befriends Paul, whose Jewish family has recently immigrated from Russia and who also becomes the target of bullying, derision, and prejudice. James learns much about being Jewish by being welcomed into Paul’s warm, encompassing family, and the two boys are supportive of one another during mutually difficult times.
Slowly, gradually, a secret long-hidden by James’s grandmother is revealed, challenging James’s expectations but also providing him with comfort, structure, and a deepening connection to Paul and his family. James uses his newfound knowledge and his burgeoning self-confidence to improve his life and that of his family.
An absorbing, well-paced, and surprising story, When Lightnin’ Struck will provide middle schoolers with much opportunity for thought, as well as for lively discussion.
Michal Hoschander Malen is the editor of Jewish Book Council’s young adult and children’s book reviews. A former librarian, she has lectured on topics relating to literacy, run book clubs, and loves to read aloud to her grandchildren.