From School Library Journal
Grade 5–8—Newton Starker, 14, has a curse: all but one of his ancestors have been killed by a lightning strike. The teen spends most of his time in a protective dome and constantly checks and rechecks the weather. His life is limited; he finds it hard to make friends. When his mother dies of a lightning strike, Newton tries to avoid the same fate by enrolling in the eccentric Jerry Potts Academy of Higher Learning and Survival in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. Its motto is "Survival Through Fierce Intelligence." In one class, for example, the students learn smoke signals and Morse code. Newton, a food connoisseur and budding chef, places a phone order of truffles for his quiche recipe, but, because of his imprecise French, he gets a highly intelligent, truffle-seeking pig. Then, in his first Culinary Arts and Survival class, he is confronted with ground squirrel. When he is hit by lightning but survives, he learns not to let himself be ruled by fear, but rather to acknowledge it and act in spite of it—to let it pass through him. The emails, recipes, and rules interspersed throughout sometimes give the narrative a disjointed feeling, but short chapters make this an appropriate choice for reluctant readers. The book has tongue-in-cheek humor, a budding romance, some gross recipes, and even a fantastic porker. Its message of taking control of one's fate will appeal to every kid.—Connie Tyrrell Burns, Mahoney Middle School, South Portland, ME
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Fourteen-year-old Newton Starker is ruled by fear and focused on survival. Over many centuries and uncounted generations, lightning has killed every member of his mother’s family. After her death, Newton leaves the protective dome of his family home to attend the Jerry Potts Academy of Higher Learning and Survival in Saskatchewan, where he finds a good friend, a great pet, and more courage than he knew he had. The plot is easy to follow and the many quirky characters add spice to the third-person narrative, which is interspersed with excerpts from the school’s “Survival Handbook.” Though the central idea of lightning strikes as a family curse or inherited predestination might seem odd to some, this clearly written novel creates a world in which it is believable. There’s also a disingenuous quality about Newton that makes him just right as the hero of a story with a larger-than-life premise. An offbeat, likable novel. Grades 5-7. --Carolyn Phelan