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Stray Voltage

Stray Voltage

by Eugenie Doyle, Handprint, Helen Robinson (Designed by)

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Ian Daley lives with his father, mother, and older brother on a dairy farm in northern Vermont. Times are hard for small farmers and they only get harder when a winter ice storm brings down the power lines and stray voltage gets loose on the farm, randomly shocking humans and animals alike, putting the cows off their milking. Then, one day, Ian's Mom leaves. Ian


Ian Daley lives with his father, mother, and older brother on a dairy farm in northern Vermont. Times are hard for small farmers and they only get harder when a winter ice storm brings down the power lines and stray voltage gets loose on the farm, randomly shocking humans and animals alike, putting the cows off their milking. Then, one day, Ian's Mom leaves. Ian doesn't know where she's gone or for how long. Ian's dad, always gruff and non-communicative, becomes morose, while his brother checks out. Ian's loneliness grows and grows as he struggles with his mother's abandonment, his own divided loyalties, and his evolving sense of self.
Eugenie Doyle's compelling debut novel lovingly portrays life on a small farm, celebrating its inherent vales and revealing its stark beauty.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Like the central image of her novel, Doyle's debut is quietly electrifying. An accumulation of telling details and subtle scenes trace the maturation of sixth grader Ian Daley, the second-born son in a family of Vermont dairy farmers, whose mother has recently left them. As Ian tries to make sense of his new life with his gruff, silent father and dismissive brother, Ray, and no mother as buffer between them, he begins to discover his own strengths, especially at school. Ian's teacher asks the class to summarize current events in their own words, and he discovers he "suddenly had things to say and nowhere but school to say them." Doyle's prose gracefully metes out the rhythms of farm life, capturing the silence and the beauty as well as the unrest lurking beneath the surface. For a year, Ian's farm has been blighted by stray voltage, which causes the cows' health to suffer, Ian's family to grow anxious ("Since the start of the stray voltage problem, bad days popped up like beads of sweat, like pimples on Ray's face"), and finally drives Ian's father to a desperate act. Yet Ian finds compassion for the man ("Even when Dad acted like a jerk, Ian was in awe of his [father's] hands and what they could accomplish in a day") and readers may well close this mesmerizing gem of a novel believing, like Ian, that the Vermont landscape itself has the power to heal. Ages 9-14. (Oct.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
After a winter ice storm brings down power lines, many dairy cows on the Vermont farm owned by the Daley family begin failing. The livestock are distressed by stray voltage-electrical charges that linger after being grounded to earth-drying up the family's means of support. This stark novel is told from the viewpoint of eleven-year-old Ian Daley, as he struggles to cope with the calamities that have befallen his family. Ian's father is a gruff, taciturn man, but as his farm slides toward bankruptcy, the elder Daley takes to drink and becomes increasingly morose. Unable to endure, Ian's mother leaves her husband and two sons. Sixteen-year-old Ray has inherited his father's stoicism and seems able to cope with his mother's departure, but young Ian is left emotionally destitute. The sudden disappearances of each farm cat that Ian adopts seem to echo both the random violence of the farmstead's stray voltage and the breakdown of parental support, now absent from Ian's life. In this stern, uncompromising novel, the story is not a despairing one. As if to counteract the stray voltage, another more hopeful symbol runs through in the appearances of the Hale-Bopp comet in the clear winter nights above the farm. At the low ebb of the Daley's fortunes, the comet puts on its most spectacular display, filling Ian with a sense of wonder, and helping to sustain his will to endure a bleak situation. The book is short, simple, and direct, and thus quite approachable for a reluctant reader who is not counting on a cheerful story or a contrived happy ending. VOYA CODES: 4Q 4P M J (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; JuniorHigh, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2002, Front Street, 136p,
— Walter Hogan
School Library Journal
Gr 4-7-This distinguished first novel chronicles six months in the life of the troubled Daley family. Ian, 11, lives on his struggling father's small Vermont farm. His mother has abandoned them; his older brother is uncommunicative, and his verbally abusive father has never shown much interest in his quiet, younger son. Fortunately, Ian's days are brightened by school, where a sympathetic teacher helps him express himself through writing. The entire farming community begins to experience a problem with stray electrical currents that serves as a metaphor for the unpredictable nature of the Daley men's feelings. As tensions worsen, the boy grows increasingly disaffected until the night his drunken father deliberately sets fire to their barn with the cows inside. Ian then finds the courage to stand up to him and rescues the animals. Although many situations remain realistically unresolved, including the relationship between father and son, Ian has learned that he has the strength to survive. The author uses metaphors most effectively, as when she compares the family to hurt, silent dogs that are going through the motions, surviving, but waiting to be kicked. The raw language is appropriate, given the anger and desperation of the characters. The author's obvious understanding of the young adolescent mind makes this a fine choice for reluctant readers.-B. Allison Gray, South Country Library, Bellport, NY
Kirkus Reviews
This simply drawn portrait of an 11-year-old boy pulls readers into the loneliness of a child coping with his mother’s absence and his father’s neglect. Ian becomes the forgotten child when his mother leaves their Vermont dairy farm to find herself. His taciturn father merely plods on with farm work, rarely speaking, and completely ignoring Ian. Ian’s only solace comes from school, but that isn’t enough to fill his emotional void. Doyle punctuates her debut with chapters of Ian’s homework assignments, which begin with his enthusiastic participation, but become increasingly shorter as his depression deepens. The farm is plagued by sporadic electrical bursts brought on after an ice storm damaged the power lines. As the uncontrolled electricity sickens the cows and imperils the farm, Ian also begins to lose control as he reaches out to his absent parents with mounting desperation. Powerful writing, in a gentle, low-key style, sets this apart from the standard teen angst offering; its climax will leave readers breathless. The affecting story may appeal more to adults than to its target audience of adolescents, but for those younger readers who identify with Ian, it is sure to strike a deep chord. Doyle is an exciting new voice and definitely someone to watch. (Fiction. 10 +)

Product Details

Highlights Press
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x (d)
810L (what's this?)
Age Range:
10 - 14 Years

Meet the Author

Eugenie Doyle has published short stories for adults in various literary journals. She writes for six months a year, and farms the other six months. She lives in Bristol, VT.

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