Goodreads Review: Struck By Lightning.

Struck By Lightning: The Carson Phillips JournalStruck By Lightning: The Carson Phillips Journal by Chris Colfer
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

First off, let me explain the rating. It’s not that this a terrible book. It’s not a great book either, but it’ll probably really click with some people. I watched the movie two years ago (review on my blog here) and it worked for me. I got it. I liked it. I talked about it.

When I came across the book, I figured since I liked the movie, it seemed likely that I’d like the book. For me, personally, this book is just “okay”. I’m not going to read it again, I’m not even going to keep my copy. I did finish it, and I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t really feel like I even got enough out of it to like it, hence the two-star rating. It’s probably because everything I would have gotten out of it, I’d already gotten from the movie. I didn’t feel like the book added anything to what I’d already seen.
Basically, if you love this book and have never seen the movie, then yay, there’s a great adaptation out there! But if you’ve seen the movie, this is one of those rare cases where you might not actually need to the read the book.

I typically don’t recap plots in my reviews just because I figure those are easy to find elsewhere. I am, however, going to expand a little on a couple of my status updates with this book, because they pretty much cover the other biggest issues I had reading this.

The Setting: this “small town” of over 9.5 thousand is actually MUCH bigger than the small town I grew up in, which was under 2.5k. So when the narrator goes off on tangents about how small and pitiful and dead-end his town is, I’m like, nope! I mean, the town has a freaking COMMUNITY COLLEGE. I’m pretty sure the closest community college to me was about a two hour drive, three towns over. But then he’s trying to say that getting a movie theater is a huge shinny new deal, whereas my tiny town had a movie theater that was converted from an actual stage theater and so old it was in a historic building. I know each town is going to be different and that comparative population size on average means his was technically a small town, too, but those kinds of things really stick out to me (obviously).

The Snark: Normally, I’m a huge fan of snark. My favorite website ever is called Snark Squad. My own family frequently can’t tell if I’m being sarcastic or sincere unless I drop some obvious hints. But the snark in this book often ended up coming across as overbearing or just plain nasty. And granted, the narrator is a teenager, and therefore might not be the most self-aware creature in the world, but on paper felt like a little much, and sometimes even made me uncomfortable because of just how unrelentingly mean it was. Oddly, there were a lot of line I remembered from the movie in here, but somehow in dialogue it just seemed to work better. Maybe it’s just that spoken words don’t linger like they do in print, or maybe I’ve just changed more than I thought in the last two years since I watched the movie and gotten more sensitive to what people say about each other. Maybe both. Either way, I think the moment I appreciated the most was when Carson started wondering if he was actually the villain in this story. I was a little disappointed that this sudden introspection didn’t actually seem to stick around or lead to any new growth, however.

All in all, I’d say if you haven’t watched the movie, by all means, read this and then watch the movie so you can tell me how it comes across in that order. I’d be very curious to know. And if you’ve already watched it, but are still curious about the book, don’t let my options stop you. Read it, and then let me know if you agree with me or if I’m being too harsh on it, or if I didn’t take it to task enough! Everyone’s take on media is going to be different, and that’s what makes discussions of it interesting.

View all my reviews


Is this a movie review? Why, yes it is!

Dear Cyber-Friends,

Quotable? Very.

Snark factor? High.

Darkly funny? Totally.

Gave me feels? Yup.

Impressive writing debut by the lead actor? I certainly think so.

No idea what movie this is yet? Probably not.

In case you’re curious, I’m talking about 2012’s Struck by Lightning, written by and starring Chris Colfer, probably best known for his role of Kurt in a certain TV show about kids in high school who sing a lot.

Struck By Lightning, while also set in high school, has no singing teens or dance performances. Instead, it has cutting observation, dry wit, sardonic attitudes, and begins and ends with the same death of the lead character (much like a certain favorite movie of mine, American Beauty). If you wanted a movie with more of “Kurt” at his snarkiest and less of the pop songs, you got your wish.

Colfer plays Carson Phillips, a senior who doesn’t get along with anyone, argues with teachers and students alike, and wants desperately to live small town life and go to Northwestern to become a journalist. He is, as you may have guessed, literally struck by lightning and dies at the beginning of the movie, before going on to narrate about what his life was like before he died. Oh, and of course there’s the main plot of Carson using blackmail to get submissions to his literary magazine.

The cast is rounded out with all the usual characters of a high school: the athlete, the drama queen (male variety), the cheerleader, the goth, the stoner, the queen bee, the impatient principle, the ethics-less coach, the clueless councilor. You get the idea.Though the roles are familiar, the students are handled in a way that feels less like they are simply archetypes, and more like they are real people, with their own stories and pasts and pain. There is also Carson’s family; alcoholic mother, estranged father, grandmother in a nursing home. Most of the characters are played by people I know from other shows and movies.

The movie could have been depressing and sad. It could have been silly and uncomfortable. It could have gone too far into darkness, or pushed the comedy to an unrealistic direction. It didn’t do either. It walked the tightrope between the painful reality and the sarcastic humor beautifully, giving the film more heart and and compassion that either angle could have done alone.

It’s not going to be for everyone, but often the best stories aren’t; the best stories push boundaries, and shine a light into places we might not want to look at. And like the best stories, if this movie resonates with you, then it will be one that feels like it’s a secret made just for you, one which you’ll treasure for a long time.