When Lightning Strikes Book Review
Does lighting strike twice in this series?
Creatively and comically told through a first-person perspective, in the style of a personal official government statement, When Lightning Strikes, the first book in Meg Cabot’s 1-800-where-r -you series, is a thrilling and captivating young adult novel. When Lightning Strikes tells the story of sixteen-year-old Jess Mastriani, whose life in a small southern Indiana town becomes much more exciting and complicated after being struck by lightning. Although fortunate to have survived without any serious physical injuries, Jess gains the ability to locate missing people, a skill she quickly learns is both a blessing and a curse.
Jess’ problems all start after Jeff Daley, a football player at her high school, horribly insults her best friend, Ruth Abrahamowitz, by implying that she is fat. Although Jess, being a great friend, punches him out and secures herself an extra week of detention, Ruth is still severely upset by the whole situation. Instead of driving home as she usually does, Ruth decides to walk home in order to get in shape. Despite Jess’ belief that walking home is a bad idea, given the dark storm clouds in the sky, she reluctantly agrees to walk the two miles home from school with her since she has no other way to get home.
Just as Jess had figured, a storm hits shortly after the two have begun their walk, forcing them to take cover under the only shelter available, the metal bleachers around their high school’s football field. Unfortunately, these bleachers don’t provide enough protection against the storm for Jess, who gets hit by a beam of lightning and tossed five feet away. Even though Ruth is completely freaked out by what has just happened, Jess is not worried because she feels fine, only slightly “tingly” and “energized.”
Later that night, Jess’ worry increases when she discovers a star-shaped scar on her chest near her collarbone, but she shrugs it off and heads to bed hoping that when she wakes up the next morning, her scar will be gone because how else will she wear her “scoop-neck t-shirt” in order to impress her crush, older bad boy Rob Wilkins, the next afternoon in detention? However, despite the troubling appearance of her star-shaped scar, Jess soon realizes that it is, in reality, the very least of her worries.
The next morning Jess wakes up knowing the exact geographical location of Sean Patrick O’Hanahan and Olivia Marie D’Amato, two missing children whose photos are displayed on the local milk cartons. While Jess tries to convince herself that this knowledge is just a result of “crazy dreams”, she can’t stop thinking about Sean, which is why she finds herself, at the end of the day, turning down Ruth’s ride home and heading to Paoli, Indiana where she finds Sean exactly where she knew she would.
Convinced that Sean is in serious danger, based on his strange reaction to being discovered, Jess gets in contact with the National Organization of Missing Children (NOOMC) by calling the 1-800-where-r-you number printed on the back of the milk carton giving them the location details of where both Sean and Olivia are. Unfortunately for Jess, waking up with the geographical knowledge of missing children is not a one-time incident, as a similar pattern occurs each morning for the next couple of days. By the end of the week, Jess has successfully helped the NOOMC locate six missing children, information which unsurprisingly does not go unnoticed. Originally, Jess had believed she had been sharing her information anonymously with the National Organization of Missing Children, however because of the caller ID on the NOOMC’s phones, the FBI has knowledge of all their phone conversations, including the information that Jess has provided from her very first call to the NOOCM. As a result, the FBI are able to trace where she is calling from and track her down in person, which is exactly what happens one morning before school when she is confronted by two FBI agents, Davies and Johnson who believe that Jess’ skills should not be wasted and attempt to persuade Jess to lend her skills to the FBI to help them find missing and wanted state criminals.
At first Jess declines the offer to help the FBI, wanting to continue with her regular average life- hanging out with Ruth, teasing her two brothers, Mike and Douglas and trying not to think too much about Rob Wilkins. However, despite Jess’s belief that she can forget about this entire situation, doing so is no longer a possibility.
Once news of Jess’ extraordinary skill is leaked into the media she becomes a major local celebrity, constantly hounded by both the media, who want exclusive information about what happened, as well as by other individuals, who want her help locating their missing loved ones. Although all this extra media attention severely bothers Jess, because it greatly threatens her older brother, Douglas’ mental health, she eventually agrees to help the FBI with the assumption that the press will follow her and leave her family alone, especially her brother. While Jess’ plan does work, she experiences another problem while helping the FBI at their military base, when she learns the truth about Sean’s situation. Feeling horrible that her attempt to help Sean actually made his situation worse, Jess becomes determined to do whatever it takes to find Sean again, but this time, “do it right.” However, when Jess discovers that a quick and easy fix to Sean’s situation is difficult to accomplish with dozens of federal FBI agents right behind her at every turn, she turns to her crush, Wilkins and his friends for some major help which results in serious chaos and multiple state law violations. In the end, Jess not only learns that finding and reporting missing people is much more complex than it should be, but is also forced to consider if her life would be better if she didn’t have this skill anymore and how that could be possibly be accomplished – at least in theory.