Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Travis' Book Review: Struck by Lightning by Chris Colfer


Chris Colfer, famous for his role on the television show, Glee, is proving himself to be a triple-threat talent. Not only did he write and star in the movie adaptation of Struck By Lightning, he wrote the book. Normally, the whole movie to book scenario is a big literary turnoff – I mean it is one thing to turn a novel into a mediocre movie, but another to turn a movie into mediocre book. Since Colfer wrote the film and the novel, however, I decided to give this book a shot. Fortunately, I was not disappointed.


Struck By Lightning is the story of Carson Phillips, a self-righteous teen that knows exactly how he wants his life after high school to end up – far away from the small town of Clover, a “place where the pockets are small and the minds even smaller.” To be more specific, Carson will be attending Northwestern University before getting published in the New York Times, LA Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe and eventually becoming the editor of The New Yorker. His goals are lofty, yes, but unlike everyone else in his small town, he is focused on his ambition and will do anything to reach his goals – which starts with being accepted into Northwestern. Getting accepted into his dream school, however, is going to be a bit more difficult than he thought. Being the editor of a school paper and head of the writing club (of which he is the only real member) is not enough to ensure his acceptance. If Carson is to be accepted, he needs to find a way to prove that he is a leader and capable of inspiring others. He decides to create a literary journal of works written by the popular kids, but the problem is that they all hate him (because he is a bit of a jerk). When Carson starts uncovering the popular kids’ secrets, though, he decides to use his knowledge to blackmail them into writing for him.


Struck By Lightning isn’t trying to tread any new grounds when it comes to portraying the high school dynamic. Each of the popular kids that Carson targets is a representation of one of the common social classes of high school. The targets consist of Clair, the head cheerleader; Remy, the yearbook editor; Justin, the captain of the football team; Scott, the Drama Club president; and Nicholas, the son of the richest family in town. There is also the goth girl, the stoner boy, and the foreign exchange student. Colfer doesn’t really give any of them an individualized characterization, but rather chains them down to their common stereotypes. The most unfortunate instance of this unflattering characterization is with Malerie, a sweet but very misguided girl that really tries to work with Carson. Unfortunately, Colfer portrays her as if she is an idiot because she is constantly plagiarizing books to pass off as her own, often starting her works with lines like, “Call me Ishmael,” or “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” By the end of the book, Malerie had actually written The Hunger Games and an Adele album. The concept is funny, yes, but they are also evidence of lost potential. Colfer wrote the script for the film before he wrote the book, and in film, some characters can be a little more vague and undeveloped. Literature is less forgiving.


Despite the character flaws, the novel is still both funny, refreshing, and an overall joy to read. Most of Colfer’s witty commentary on the high school dynamic is spot on, and there are plenty of pop-cultural references just ambiguous enough for the reader to feel smart for understanding. I mean, who makes a Dante’s Peak reference in 2012? Colfer even has the audacity to write a reference to his Glee character, which seems a bit egotistical, but fits right in with his, and Carson’s, tone. Ultimately, the writing does branch beyond social commentary and sarcasm. Carson is forced to face the moral consequences of his actions, often struggling with the idea of hurting others and using others to achieve his own goals. In the end, it turns out that each character is searching for his or her own form of acceptance – be it accepted by parents, peers, or society. Carson’s strive for acceptance is just a little more tangible. The writer is also not without his moments of simple brilliance, expressing ideas like, “the higher your cloud, the farther your rain falls,” and,I never planned to fail, so I failed to plan.” The writer is also not without use of foul language. Parents and younger teens may shy away from the “f-bomb,” but Colfer certainly does not. That said, I would highly recommend this book to fans of Chris Colfer’s character on Glee, as well as older teens and adults looking for a fast, fun, and thoughtful read. 


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