When Light­nin’ Struck

Bet­sy R. Rosenthal

  • Review
By – March 24, 2022

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.

Discussion Questions