Calculating A Good Story – The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl

The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty published in 2018.

This middle grade novel is about Lucy, a 12 year old girl who, when struck by lightning, develops an incredible ability in mathematics. After a period of home schooling, her grandmother/guardian decides that attending a regular school will help Lucy develop social skills.

I don’t think The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl is a good middle grade novel, I think it’s a good novel, which just happens to have children as its characters. The categorisation of novel by age group started developing in earnest in the 1960s, so that today there’s a feeling that people have to read novels featuring characters who are like themselves. That’s alright, except for the fact that novels are also useful in finding out about people who are not like ourselves. I am not a 12 year old girl with social anxiety and incredible abilities in maths. I am a man in his fifties who has never felt much of an affinity with maths – but that doesn’t mean I can’t find The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl interesting.

One of the things that Lucy learns during her time at school is that although she might feel like the only freak in the world, other people have their own concerns and are not really taking much notice of you. That’s what books can provide – an insight into things other than us.

So maths – I have enough ability to muddle along, but have never been something very comfortable with it. The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl was an education for me, a window into the world of maths. I was good at English at school, a subject which I believed was an altogether vaguer affair. But what did I know. Lucy loves the constant known as pi – a number which you get in dividing a circle’s circumference by its diameter. This simple calculation comes out as a number that goes on forever, beginning 3.14159…. with as many numbers after that as you want. Pi is constant, applying to any circle of any size. But you can never say precisely what pi is, because you can never get to the end of it. There is something fundamentally dependable about Lucy’s favourite bit of maths, something that always remains the same. But there is also an unknowable quality about it. I imagined there was a big difference between the precise world of maths and the uncertainties of life which people write about in stories. That, however is not really true. Maths and more artistic pursuits are not so far apart after all.

The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl is a good novel for school children. It will teach them about maths and show how it can be used to solve real world problems that might mean something to them – like boosting the chances of adoption of dogs at a dog shelter. There are also a few lessons about dealing with difficult social situations. Beyond that, The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl is, as I say, a good novel. It says something about life that is relevant generally.

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