Saturday, February 16, 2019

Cybils Award Reviews: The Miscalculations Of Lightning Girl || The Parker Inheritance

I was a judge for the Cybils Award this year, so I thought it’d be fun to review the middlegrade realistic fiction finalists. Here are my two favorite finalists. The Parker Inheritance is the book we chose to win the realistic middlegrade category, but The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl is my personal favorite. Basically, they’re both good. Reading them both would be solid decision-making on your part.

The Miscalculations Of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty

Genre: Middlegrade contemporary fiction
Pages: 294
Publication date: May 2018
Content warning: Mental illness, bullying, sick dogs, homeless animals
Lucy Callahan was struck by lightning. She doesn't remember it, but it changed her life forever. The zap gave her genius-level math skills, and ever since, Lucy has been homeschooled. Now, at 12 years old, she's technically ready for college. She just has to pass 1 more test—middle school!

Lucy's grandma insists: Go to middle school for 1 year. Make 1 friend. Join 1 activity. And read 1 book (that's not a math textbook!). Lucy's not sure what a girl who does calculus homework for fun can possibly learn in 7th grade. She has everything she needs at home, where nobody can make fun of her rigid routines or her superpowered brain. The equation of Lucy's life has already been solved. Unless there's been a miscalculation?

Likes: Lucy reminds me of a smarter, middle-school-aged me. She has obsessive compulsive disorder and struggles to get along with kids who don’t understand her routines. Like Lucy, I had a mental illness and was bullied for it in school. I thought I was a freak who no one could understand (and I threw myself many embarrassing, melodramatic pity parties because of it).

Lucy and her friends—Windy and Levi—are well-developed characters with distinctive personalities. I like their friendship dynamics. They all have flaws and aren’t afraid to call each other out when they’re acting stupid. They don’t always get along, but they always forgive each other for mistakes (or miscalculations). I love the adult characters, too. They behave like realistic adults and (mostly) act in the best interest of the child characters.

Lucy is a girl who loves math! That’s becoming more common in children’s books, but it’s still not something you see often enough. Math shapes the way Lucy experiences the world. For example, every number in the book is written numerically, even if it’s not grammatically correct that way. It shows that Lucy thinks in numbers.

Even kids who don’t have OCD or a math obsession can find something relatable in this novel. It’s a story about the desire to make friends and what happens when a friend betrays you. It’s about secrets, bullying, accepting differences, community service, and how even geniuses need help sometimes.

The pacing is fast. The plot isn’t predictable. I was able to read this book quickly and never found my attention wandering. I think this novel would appeal to kids. I can imagine preteen-me enjoying it.

Dislikes: I have two minor complaints. First, the secondary characters are flat. Windy’s girlfriends are names with no personalities. This is especially a problem with Windy’s frenemy, Maddie. I wish we knew more about her. She’s mean with no redeeming qualities. Why is she even trying to be friends with Windy? They don’t get along.

Second, a lot of this story takes place in an animal shelter. I didn’t believe that the animal shelter owner would let random kids mess with her records. The kids seem to have an unrealistic amount of freedom in this shelter. They do whatever they want with very little adult supervision. That seems like a good way to get everybody in trouble.

The Bottom Line: My dislikes are small. This is the best book I’ve read so far in 2019. It’s sweet, thoughtful, and relatable.

The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson

Genre: Middlegrade mystery
Pages: 331
Publication date: March 2018
Content warning: Racism, homophobia, bullying, death, divorce, injury
The letter waits in a book, in a box, in an attic, in an old house in Lambert, South Carolina. It's waiting for Candice Miller.

When Candice finds the letter, she isn't sure she should read it. It's addressed to her grandmother, after all, who left Lambert in a cloud of shame. But the letter describes a young woman named Siobhan Washington. An injustice that happened decades ago. A mystery enfolding the letter-writer. And the fortune that awaits the person who solves the puzzle. Grandma tried and failed. But now Candice has another chance.

So with the help of Brandon Jones, the quiet boy across the street, she begins to decipher the clues in the letter. The challenge will lead them deep into Lambert's history, full of ugly deeds, forgotten heroes, and one great love; and deeper into their own families, with their own unspoken secrets. Can they find the fortune and fulfill the letter's promise before the summer ends?

Likes: Well, this is a compelling mystery. I was flipping pages frantically near the end. I had to know if the kids would find the treasure!

The mystery kept me guessing. I never predicted where the clues would lead. Brandon and Candice are the perfect characters to star in this story because they’re an unstoppable team. They want to prove that the treasure is real and that Candice’s grandmother wasn’t a delusional person who dug up a beloved tennis court for no reason. The kids face constant obstacles but always find ways to get around them. I badly wanted Candice and Brandon to find the treasure. They deserve it.

I love the characters because they are so realistic! Even the side characters are fully developed. I like that the “good guys” sometimes make bad decisions. Nobody is perfect. We all have a snapping point, and we all do things that we regret.

The story is split into two timelines: contemporary and historical. The historical chapters explain why this treasure-hunting mystery exists. Both timelines are equally engaging. I never got bored or skimmed ahead to read my favorite point-of-view. I wanted to solve the mystery and know who’s responsible for the mystery’s existence. This is an ambitious, well-crafted novel. I appreciate the skill that went into structuring it.

The story tackles important topics (racism, homophobia, divorce, bullying, etc.), but it doesn’t become an “issue book.” The problems don’t feel like they’re put in the novel to be educational. They help shape the plot and the characters’ actions, but they don’t completely take over the story. This book is about two kids solving a mystery. They just happen to encounter problems along the way.

Dislikes: Would kids enjoy this book? It’s certainly dense. Kids might struggle with the length, the slowness of the plot, and all of the names and information they have to remember. I had to flip backwards and reread Candice’s grandmother’s letter a few times because I couldn’t remember why the characters were making certain decisions.

I like the historical chapters, but I think a few of the early ones could have been removed without hurting the story. The book takes its time getting to the point.

The Bottom Line: This book deserves all of the award and praise it’s been getting. An unpredictable mystery with characters who are easy to love.


  1. Love the whole premise of The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl. And what a great title. I don't read a lot of middle grade fiction any more, but I definitely want to read this one! :)

  2. I really liked Lightning Girl as well! I recently read about Parker Inheritance and put it on my son's Hoopla list of audiobooks. I'll have to check in with him to see if he likes it and let you know.

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

    1. I hope he likes it! It’s a bit confusing at times, but the mystery is fun.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

  3. Maths...*shudders* I was so not a math person!

    1. Haha, same. I came close to not graduating from high school because of math.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

  4. I adored Lucy and her grandma. It was such a lovely and delightful story. And, MATH! I loved that it was everywhere. I liked that Levi surprised me in a good way too.

    1. YES! This is such a good book. Why are more people not talking about it?

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

  5. I've had Parkee Inheritance on my radar since it won the Coretta Scott King Book Awards honor award. It sounds really good but I get what you're saying about kids liking it. It does sound like a lot of content.

    1. I loved it, but it’s slightly confusing because there is a ton of stuff going on. I had to back up and reread a few times.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

  6. I want to read The Miscalculations of Lighting Girl it sounds like my daughters kind of book also. Both of these sound really good.


  7. These sound great. I should read them. 👍✨

  8. These both sound like great books and I'd probably enjoy the reads. I'm struggling to remember if I had access to stories like these at the intended age. I think it was all Enid Blyton and pony stories though. They didn't have much in the way of adult guidance - the Famous Five and Secret Seven usually didn't see a parent from breakfast until teatime!!

  9. It's books like The Parker Inheritance that made me doubt as a child if I even liked reading. In fact I was sure I wasn't a fan and couldn't believe when my mom kept insisting I would become one. It's books like Lightning Girl that make me a believer! Great little reviews. I would probably enjoy The Parker Inheritance more now.