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The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors

The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors

4.0 13
by Michele Young-Stone

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When lightning strikes, lives are changed.
On a sunny day in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, eight-year-old Becca Burke was struck by lightning. No one believed her—not her philandering father or her drunk, love-sick mother—not even when her watch kept losing time and a spooky halo of light appeared overhead


When lightning strikes, lives are changed.
On a sunny day in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, eight-year-old Becca Burke was struck by lightning. No one believed her—not her philandering father or her drunk, love-sick mother—not even when her watch kept losing time and a spooky halo of light appeared overhead in photographs. Becca was struck again when she was sixteen. She survived, but over time she would learn that outsmarting lightning was the least of her concerns.
In rural Arkansas, Buckley R. Pitank’s world seemed plagued by disaster. Ashamed but protective of his obese mother, fearful of his scathing grandmother, and always running from bullies (including his pseudo-evangelical stepfather), he needed a miracle to set him free. At thirteen years old, Buckley witnessed a lightning strike that would change everything.
Now an art student in New York City, Becca Burke is a gifted but tortured painter who strives to recapture the intensity of her lightning-strike memories on canvas. On the night of her first gallery opening, a stranger appears and is captivated by her art. Who is this odd young man with whom she shares a mysterious connection?

When Buckley and Becca finally meet, neither is prepared for the charge of emotions—or for the perilous event that will bring them even closer to one another, and to the families they’ve been running from for as long as they can remember.

Crackling with atmosphere and eccentric characters, The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors explores the magic of nature and the power of redemption in a novel as beautiful and unpredictable as lightning itself.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Damaged people inhabit this debut novel: people who have been struck by lightning as well as those who have lost loved ones from death, divorce, drinking, or duplicity. Young-Stone tells parallel stories that hurdle storm after storm headlong into one another. One follows the bullied Buckley R. Pitank, who watches as his beloved mother's life is buffeted by her mean-spirited mother and a fraud of an evangelical preacher. Just when she escapes and finds love, and Buckley sees the possibility of happiness, she is fatally struck by lightning. The other is the story of Becca Burke, a lightning strike survivor whose drunk mother and philandering father have a hard time believing that she has been repeatedly hit by lightning. As Buckley and Becca grow up, Buckley writes The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors, excerpts of which begin each chapter, and Becca becomes a painter. What happens when they do finally meet is inevitable. Young-Stone is a very fine writer who has created a host of endearing losers—young, old, literate, and simple, all full of longing. What she does best is portray the incredulousness of the unlucky. (Apr.)
Library Journal
Becca Burke was eight years old the first time lightning struck her down. Her dad didn't believe it, and her mom was drunk. Buckley Pitank's life, on the other hand, was finally looking up when his mom's head was opened by a lightning bolt out of a clear blue sky. Unknown to each other, Becca and Buckley spend the next 20-some years coming to grips with the aftermath of these incidents. Lonely, disaffected, and estranged from family, they each live out their lives along two separate story lines, taking readers from North Carolina, to the shores of Texas, to the art world of New York City, before they inevitably cross paths through the clever conceit of the handbook in the title. Each character in this startlingly mature debut novel, from Becca's self-absorbed father and self-destructive mother to Buckley's evangelical stepdad, is complicated, nuanced, and sympathetic. Young-Stone's writing style is crystal clear and shot through with lightning-like flashes of description so vivid that readers might think that they are watching a movie. VERDICT It's not often that this reviewer regrets a book's ending, but that's what happened here. The sense of melancholy, tempered by the resilience and heart of the characters, makes this ripe for Oprah or fans of Elizabeth Berg or Anne Tyler. The author's web site says she has another novel in the hopper. Two thumbs up.—Sally Bissell, Lee Cty. Lib. Syst. Fort Myers, FL
From the Publisher
“[N]othing in this novel is predictable, which is one of many reasons that it’s a delight. Young-Stone has written an exceptionally rich and sure-handed debut, full of complex characters, brilliantly described. . . . [H]er style certainly has an electric immediacy.”
Boston Globe

"Like a modern fairy tale, The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors shows the reader how to survive the inevitable; its magical coincidences are both possible and impossible, beautiful and tragic."—Blackbird

“A cast of good and bad characters and the interplay of human aspirations and chance. As with Dickens, life is a battle of survival here as well as a journey of understanding. . . . [Young-Stone] does not turn away from the harsh disappointments of modern life in America. In fact, she is at her best as an explorer of the ways in which we sometimes fail our children and burden them with traumas that blight their adult lives. Still, her storytelling also leaves room for forgiveness, reconciliation, friendship and love.”
Richmond Times-Dispatch

“Most writers entertain the not-so-secret wish that at least portions of their prose will pop and zing with verbal electricity. But it’s difficult to construct a hook for your average dysfunctional-family story quite as illuminating as when the author herself, and also several of her characters, have actually been struck by lightning. Michele Young-Stone’s first novel blends both true and fictional accounts of cascading storms of the heart and the sky. . . . Death, art, ghosts, love and the search for redemption populate her pages as frequently as the ominous rumble of thunder.”
Richmond Style Weekly

“Young-Stone tells parallel stories that hurdle storm after storm headlong into one another. . . . [She] is a very fine writer who has created a host of endearing losers—young, old, literate, and simple, all full of longing. What she does best is portray the incredulousness of the unlucky.”
Publishers Weekly

"Each character in this startlingly mature debut novel, from Becca’s self-absorbed father and self-destructive mother to Buckley’s evangelical stepdad, is complicated, nuanced, and sympathetic. Young-Stone’s writing style is crystal clear and shot through with lightning-like flashes of description so vivid that readers might think that they are watching a movie. VERDICT: It’s not often that this reviewer regrets a book ending, but that’s what happened here. The sense of melancholy, tempered by the resilience and heart of the characters, makes this ripe for Oprah or fans of Elizabeth Berg or Anne Tyler."
Library Journal (starred review)

"Luminescent . . . Becca and Buckley’s parallel stories, as well as curiosity about how their paths finally converge, will keep the pages turning, while the complex, colorful characters, and the deep bonds that form between them in spite of and even because of the tragedies they survive, will live on in readers’ minds long after they reach the end of this powerful, beautiful novel."
Booklist (starred review)

"The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors is a quirky, intelligent, funny and well-written book filled with characters so imperfect they look like you and me." —The Raleigh News Observer  

"Vibrant, funny, complicated, magical, heartbreaking, electric. Michele Young-Stone’s debut novel The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors is all of this and more. I loved it! I’ve been waiting to read a book like this for years."
—Sheri Reynolds, bestselling author of A Gracious Plenty and The Sweet In-Between

"If you have anything else to do in your life, don’t open the cover of Michele Young-Stone’s The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors. You won’t be thinking about anything except Becca Burke’s amazing life for a very long time . . . "
—Jacquelyn Mitchard, New York Times bestselling author of The Deep End of the Ocean

"Yes, it’s a book about lightning, but it’s so much more. It’s about the interconnectedness of our stories, our seemingly lonely and individual sufferings. It’s about the strength of the human spirit. It’s about finding redemption where you least expect it. This book, like lightning itself, will take your breath away."  Our State Magazine

Product Details

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8.62(w) x 5.78(h) x 1.35(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors

A Novel
By Michele Young-Stone

Shaye Areheart Books

Copyright © 2010 Michele Young-Stone
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780307464477

90% of lightning strike victims survive.

A fish . . .

She was a girl like you or like someone you knew-from a cracked home, a fault line between her parents, for which she felt responsible. A pretty girl with red hair: too curly to contain in barrettes or under headbands, twisting free, needing to spiral and curl like the ocean waves to her right.

The sun was hot, turning her back pink. She took great strides, walking faster, nearly running, her shadow mixed with the surf. Sanderlings scurrying to and fro mixed with her shadow. Except for the birds, she was alone with her thoughts, with hopes to caulk the crevice between her mother and father, the way she'd seen her mother do, wearing latex gloves, smoothing slow-drying putty around the bathtub's perimeter. How she set her highball on the tub's edge, digging out the old grout using a flat-head screwdriver. Mother was always drinking, and Dad was always working, but cracks can be mended so long as you let the caulk dry. They were here at the beach, weren't they? There was plenty of time to let that stuff dry. At home, Becca would mess it up, running the bathwater too soon, but here, she had hope. Here, she spotted a live fish with a fanlike tail, its gills opening and shutting, silver window blinds. Maybe the fish-on-the-sand happened to you or to someone you knew, but for Becca, it cemented her belief that anything is possible. She carried the fish through Atlantic surf, watching it swim away, running to tell her parents she had saved a life.

. . . out of water

Buckley loved everything about his mother, from the strawberry bumps on her legs where she dry- shaved with her Gillette to the way her black hair knotted at the nape of her neck. When the mean boys, the ones with fathers who taught them to fight before they could walk, jumped him from behind or from the front, Buckley counted himself a survivor. Knocked hard to the dirt, he got back up. It had everything to do with his mother. She was there for him, and he’d always be there for her. He could run fast.

It seemed that he was always running from someone stronger, bigger, and meaner— but not faster, and that was a very good thing. Today he was tired of running. The angry boys called, “Bastard!” That word didn’t touch him anymore. He’d heard it so often, it’d lost its meaning. He walked, hearing footsteps at his heels and
falling to the dirt. Maybe he needed a beating. Covering his head with his hands, he felt the blows to his ribs and legs. Always protect the head. He breathed in the dirt.

Much later, when he was sixteen, he met Clementine. She smelled like dirt too. Like the earth. Like he could bury his face there between chin and collarbone and be protected. Maybe that’s why he loved her.

. . .

When the beating was over, the bullies toed dirt on Buckley’s backside and touted, “Crybaby.” As they left, he struggled to his feet.

The thing was, he didn’t cry. Not then. Hardly ever. They could’ve kicked and punched until his ribs cracked and his lip split. It didn’t make a difference. He wouldn’t have cried for them. Maybe that was part of what was wrong with him. He was eleven years old, unable to cry, trying not to run from the world.

[ 1 ]

Lightning, 1977

The wind shifted and Becca stopped running. Her dad was taking her for a chocolate-dipped soft serve, but first she needed a bath. He wouldn't be seen with her this way. Her knee, bloody from tripping over a knobby root during hide-and-seek, had that sticky-tight feeling, and the other knee, scraped from tumbling on the sidewalk, burned. She needed to be more careful. How many times had her dad told her "Stop picking those scabs or you will scar, and scars last forever"?

The wind picked up-a rare cold wind. From her driveway, she watched the willow tree's branches, like charm-laden arms, sway back and forth, and thought about her ice cream, about her dad. She thought about the summer's end, another boring school year about to begin, about the dried blood caked on her knee-and her world exploded. It cracked open and Becca fell inside a whiteness that erased everything: the driveway, the tree, the long summer's day, the blood, the ice cream. For a time, the world was blank. She was still.

She woke up, her fingertips tingling, her head full of static, raindrops only now wetting her legs. She knew she'd been struck by lightning. There was never a question. She stood up, feeling peculiar, seeing herself from a distance as someone else might: wild hair, freckled nose, pink lips, pony T-shirt, corduroy shorts and gray sneakers; gangly arms and legs.

She hobbled inside to the den. With blood trickling down her shin, her voice shaky, she said, "Dad, I got struck by lightning."

He sat on the sofa. "If you got struck by lightning, you'd be dead." He didn't look up.

The den's gold drapes were parted. The sky was black. Becca shivered, waiting for her dad to say something more like We need to get you to the hospital! or Oh my God! I'll call an ambulance!, but instead he picked up Yachting Today. He was in love with sailing then. He was in love with all things that required large sums of money, and Becca was in love with him.

Becca said, "It knocked me down."

"Who knocked you down? Did you knock them down first?" He looked at her then. Finally.

The rain streaked the front window. She said, "I think I got struck by lightning."

"Well, you seem fine now." He was used to seeing her bloodied and bruised. Like her mother, she lacked balance. "Get cleaned up." He returned to his magazine.

Upstairs, she undressed, leaving the bathroom door open. She looked at her watch before stepping in the tub. The hands had stopped at five-fourteen. That must've been when the lightning struck. Or, maybe Dad is right: Who gets struck by lightning and walks away? She knew the answer: Me. I do.

In the bathtub, with her big toe up the spigot, the water turned gray. Becca smelled bleach. She was trembling again. Shutting off the cold, she turned up the hot. She closed her eyes and took deep breaths to stop from shaking. She imagined hovering, twirling in the sky, shooting lightning bolts from her fingertips like a gunslinger before dropping, landing cold and wet in the driveway. She opened her eyes and felt sick. Her hands and feet ached. She used to ask her mother, "How can I turn off my imagination?" Back then, she didn't pronounce the i, saying, "'magination" instead. It was back then that she'd started painting, to give her "'magination" something to do. Maybe the prickling in her feet and the headache were imagination. Maybe she'd bumped her head falling down somewhere earlier today but didn't remember. More deep breaths. Her mother, who took smoke-filled breaths, said that deep breaths calmed the nerves. Becca, taking the deepest breaths possible, felt light-headed. She pulled the tub's stopper.

Looking at herself in the mirror, she decided to curb the breathing. She was pale. She might pass out, and she'd been through enough today.

Downstairs, she toweled her hair and waited for her dad to get off the phone. He said, "I'll be there," smiling at Becca, holding up his pointer finger to indicate Be with you in a second. He often held up his pointer finger. Sometimes when he wanted Becca to do something like fold laundry, he'd look at her and point to the full basket. He was a man of few words. Into the phone he said, "I told you: I'll be there."

Becca, having waited patiently, said, "I'm ready."

Covering the mouthpiece, he said, "Ready for what?"

"Ice cream. We're supposed to-"

He didn't let her finish. "Sorry. Another night." Returning to his phone conversation, he said, "I won't be later than eight."

Becca pulled the towel from her head and dropped it on the kitchen floor. She went upstairs to her room to paint a picture of a girl getting struck by lightning. She was certain that her father was in the kitchen pointing at the wet towel and waiting for someone to pick it up. Later, when he'd gone, she'd come back downstairs and the towel would still be there. It wasn't his responsibility to clean up after them.

Excerpt from
The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors

An estimated 80% of people struck by lightning are men. This is not, as you might think, because men are too stubborn to come in out of the rain; rather, it's because men tend to engage in outdoor sports and professions more than women.

Regardless of a victim's gender, doctors and scientists concur that the surviving victim needs support from family and friends to recover.

Immediate effects include cardiac arrest and brain damage. Chronic effects include anxiety disorders, memory loss, stiff joints, numbness, and insomnia. For years following a strike, the victim might feel tingling throughout his body. Because it's often difficult for a victim to describe what happened, it's important that there is a support group to listen.


Excerpted from The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors by Michele Young-Stone Copyright © 2010 by Michele Young-Stone. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

MICHELE YOUNG-STONE earned her MFA in fiction writing from Virginia Commonwealth University. Once, many years ago, she was struck by lightning in her driveway. She survived. Visit her at www.micheleyoung-stone.com

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The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors: A Novel 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
ChelseaW More than 1 year ago
I was very much looking forward to reading this book, as lightning strike survivors is not a common subject to read about. What I got was a lot more. The story follows two seemingly unrelated kids, Becca Burke and Buckley Pitank, as they navigate broken homes, adolescence, troubled adulthoods, and all sorts of bad decisions along the way. They do not know each other and spend most of the book miles apart. What links them, however, is that Becca is a lightning strike survivor and Buckley has lost loved ones to lightning strikes. Ultimately, these details will bring Becca and Buckley together, acknowledging the idea that it is indeed a small world. Michele Young-Stone writes the lives of Becca and Buckley very thoroughly. Each story was fascinating in it's own way, rich with character and cause and effect from realistic situations. Unfortunately, I felt distracted by having to switch back and forth between lives, and instead was tempted to read one story all the way through and then return to read the other in it's entirety. I did enjoy the little excerpts from the Handbook itself. There is little actual happiness within the stories, making it an emotional read. Push all the way to the end and the reader may feel like a survivor themselves.
bookchickdi More than 1 year ago
Writers are told to 'write what they know' so it's no surprise to discover that Michele Young-Stone is a lightning strike survivor. She titled her first published novel The Handbook for Lightning Survivors, and it's an emotional powerhouse of a book. Using the conceit of placing a 'book within a book', one of the main characters, Buckley, a young man, has written a non-fiction book titled The Handbook for Lightning Survivors. Parts of his book are sprinkled within the novel, which tells the story of Buckley, who has had brushes with lightning strikes, and Becca, who has been struck twice by lightning. Becca was struck by lightning as a young child, but her parents didn't believe her because she did not appear to be harmed. When a photograph of Becca appears to have a halo of light around her, her mother starts to believe it may be true. She is struck again when she is teenager, but this time, her boyfriend witnesses the strike. Becca loves her father, who leaves his wife Mary. Mary falls apart, drinking, taking pills, ignoring her daughter. Becca turns to creating art, and indiscriminate sex, to deal with her emotions. Although the story is about Becca, an actual lightning strike survivor, Buckley is a survivor in a different manner. His obese mother marries a shady, lazy man, who mistreats Buckley in the name of 'toughening him up'. When Buckley's mom has had enough, she leaves her husband behind with her mother and starts a new life with Buckley far away. They meet another type of survivor, Paddy John, a Vietnam war vet, who has more than a few problems. But he falls in love with Buckley's mom, and his courtship of her is tender and sweet. Their relationship, and Buckley with his mom's, is the heart of this moving story. How can you not love a young boy, of whom is written, Buckley wanted a lot of things, but at the top of his list was for his mother to be happy. It seemed to him that she was always sad. She was a good mom- never a mean word crossed her lips- but like Buckley, she seldom smiled. She was fat, and it was hard for Buckley when they went places to hear people snicker and know she heard it too. Within the novel are parts of Buckley's book, mostly statistics and anecdotes from lightning strike survivors. One mantra that is repeated is TREAT THE APPARENTLY DEAD FIRST. Most lightning strike fatalities are caused by cardiac arrest. The importance of this advice becomes apparent by the end of the novel. Stone-Young is a wonderful writer. She weaves Buckley's book and the novel together with skill, and her characters are complex and drawn with compassion. You feel that you know these people, and Buckley and Paddy John are two of my favorite characters in contemporary literature. I look forward to Stone-Young's next effort; she has a talent for creating characters who stay in your heart long after you finish the book. It's also no surprise that this is a Shaye Areheart imprint; her imprint always means a quality book. It's a shame that her imprint is no more. Thanks to the publisher for providing a NetGalley copy for review.
kfrye111 More than 1 year ago
I absolutely loved this book, although I realize it may not be for everyone. There are two main voices, but there are a handful of others that come in contact with the two main ones who have short off-shoots of their own. As a reader, I connected with all of the characters - main and otherwise - because they had such honest voices. I think this book, at its core, is about the relationships and events that shape us into who we become as adults - both the good and the awful. And about persevering despite great loss. Unique writing style by Young-Stone and I can't wait for her next!
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AABMOM More than 1 year ago
I found this book to be quite different. I enjoyed some of the quirky and odd characters - not the kind of people I have come across in my real life, but that is kind of why I enjoyed it. It was slow at times, but ultimately the story line did pull it through!
barb1wired More than 1 year ago
This is one of those books make me wish I had more time to read. A thoroughly engaging novel weaving together many stories but primarily focused on two characters, Becca and Buckley, whose lives are changed by encounters with lightning. Other reviewers have provided synopses, which I will not repeat, but I will add that the author has done a wonderful job of moving between multiple characters and jumping between years in their lives yet maintaining clarity for the reader. I look forward to the author's next story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
SiobhanMFallon More than 1 year ago
This novel is beautifully written and tension-filled. Author Young-Stone creates a cast of broken characters desperately trying to mend themselves. Life grinds on and just when you think that something will go right for them, someone literally gets struck by lightning. This electric web binds together the protagonists, Becca and Buckley, even as it maims them. Gorgeous and unsettling, this novel will give you goosebumps everytime a storm rolls in.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Michele Young-Stone's first novel is delightful. Wonderful web of characters, compelling plot, prompting deeper contemplation...it's all there. Recommend highly to anyone who can identify with the power of lightning and appreciate the underlying currents of love and life coursing through all of us.
Elsie_Brooks More than 1 year ago
Overall, I enjoyed The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors. Young-Stone's placement of excerpts from character Buckley R. Pitank's book for lightning strike survivors was clever, offered a nice visual break to the text, and gave context to some of the events in the novel. For two reasons I would recommend the book only to those who truly love to read and have plenty of time to do so: . The cast of characters is grossly oversized for the storyline . It takes about one-third of the novel for the author to provide enough valuable information for the reader to feel engaged. The positive is once it becomes clear that the plot is going to go somewhere, the storyline quickly becomes engrossing. Young-Stone uses beautifully descriptive language. It is easy to visualize the characters, their surroundings, and Becca Burke's art. SPOILER The book is very well written; however, the ending is disappointing as it is too well packaged. Tying all of the ends neatly with a bow doesn't work well when the text is as dark as The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors. FOR YA READERS The novel's theme may be appealing to YA readers, so I will add the cautionary comment that Becca engages in gratuitous sex beginning at age 13. Other things parents of younger readers may want to be aware of are the subjects of suicide and substance abuse. Young-Stone does not present these topics as positive images; however, they are worth noting as areas for discussion with younger readers
Anonymous More than 1 year ago