Background: When this slim volume showed up from the publisher, with a picture of a girl doing a handstand on the cover, I thought that it was a book for early elementary school kids. But then the other day I read Abby (the) Librarian's review, in which she compared this book to Jenny Han's Shug (one of my favorite titles from 2006). And I learned that Violet Raines Almost Got Struck by Lightning is about a girl about to start junior high school, with all of the insecurities and angst that go along with that.
Review: Danette Haworth's Violet Raines Almost Got Struck by Lightning is set in a tiny town in Florida in the 1970's. Violet Raines is an only child, a bit of a tomboy, dividing her time between her two best friends, Lottie and Eddie. Lottie and Violet have lived next door to one another since they were born, and are closer than sisters (of which Lottie has several). Eddie teases Violet, but they also go on adventures together, and know instinctively how each other will react to things. Violet's father died before she could know him, and her mother works hard, but mother and daughter have a good relationship. Violet, Eddie, and Lottie will all be starting junior high at the end of the summer.
Violet's secure place in the world is shaken when a new girl, Melissa, arrives from big city Detroit. Melissa has an air-conditioned house and a perfect bedroom with a television set. She wears a bra, experiments with make-up, watches soap operas, and plans a career in Hollywood. Melissa is, naturally, intriguing to Lottie, and jealousy rises up in Violet's heart on the very first day. A rivalry develops between Violet and Melissa that Lottie can't smooth over. And Melissa's snide remarks make it difficult for Violet to spend one-on-one time with Eddie, too, as she starts to wonder whether they are "just friends" or not. A tragedy puts the tensions somewhat into perspective, however, and starts the process of Violet's coming of age.
Haworth's writing is lovely, with passages like:
"I start giggling and Lottie does too. Only we press the giggles down so instead of coming out of our mouths, the giggles shake our shoulders." (Page 1)
"Momma's got my blanket in a keepsake box along with cards and drawings I've made for her. And I bet Eddie's momma's got that fish doll, too, because even when you outgrow your childish things, someone saves them for you. Someone who loves you so that you don't forget who you are." (Page 18)
Violet's voice is distinctive, that of a southern, country girl, but one who loves to read, and collects words like jewels. She is pleased when she meets her new teacher, who also likes words, saying:
"Looking at her, I decide right then and there she's all right. Well, you can't help but like another word collector, even if she is a teacher." (Page 161)
Violet is a bit more profound than is, perhaps, plausible for a eleven-year-old girl, but I'm willing to give that a pass, because she says beautiful things like:
"Everyone sits down, and after we say grace, we start passing around the food. I am surrounded by noise and family (Lottie's family) and it is as cozy as snuggling in your bed on a cold night." (Page 27)
Although the book is set in the 1970's (necessary, I think, for the way that the tragedy unfolds), it feels timeless, rather than dated. There's a bit of a Maggie Valley Trilogy feel to this book, especially in Violet's reverence for the outdoors. And, as Abby noted, there is certainly a resemblance to Shug, in the dynamic between Lottie, Melissa, and Violet. The hints of a developing relationship between Violet and Eddie are deftly handled (I have a bit of a crush on Eddie, actually). I recommend this title for ten and eleven-year old girls who are about to start middle school, especially those girls who aren't quite ready for dating and makeup, but are thinking about them. The author has a reading group guide on her website, too. I would love to see a sequel, reflecting how these small town kids do in their larger junior high school, but I've heard no hints about that. But still, this one is a keeper. Recommended.
Publisher: Walker Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: August 19, 2008
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
Other Blog Reviews: Abby (the) Librarian, Kim Kasch Blogsite, Literate Lives, Kate's Book Blog, Welcome to my Tweendom, The Reading Zone
Author Interviews: Courtney Summers, Women on Writing Blog, Writing for Children & Teens
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