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Joshua and the Lightning Road Paperback – May 19, 2015
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Joshua and his friend Finn are whisked into another world while they are in the attic, playing with an artifact with otherworldly powers. They found themselves trapped in a dreary place ruled by a woman and her soldiers who use children for labor. All Joshua wants to do is find Finn, who he's lost, and go home. But in that arduous process, he learns life lessons that he would have never learned any other way.. And finds out that he actually has powers that can save the good and defeat the bad.
Recommended for kids of all ages.
Rating: Three out of Five Stars—Good
Now, let me just say, I really, REALLY, wanted to give this book four stars. After all, I don’t like tearing apart a fellow writer’s work. I know how it feels to receive criticism. And Donna asked me to review her book, so I feel like a monster giving her three stars after she sent me a sweet card and everything. Excuse me while I retreat to the Corner of Shame. So I want to preface this by telling you that I did enjoy JOSHUA AND THE LIGHTNING ROAD, and I know that if I were in the intended Middle Grade age range, I would be quicker to give it four stars. After all, I don’t read much MG, so I may not be the best judge of this genre. But before I tell you why I’m giving it three stars, let me start with what I liked about the book.
Even though Joshua doesn’t leap off the page like many memorable MG characters do (and seriously, it’s important for MG characters to have a strong, unique voice), he is still an admirable protagonist. While he makes hasty/stupid decisions from time to time (though seriously, would we have any books if characters didn’t?), he has a good heart. On a number of occasions, he risks his welfare, his happiness, and even his life for others without considering—even for a moment—the consequences of his actions. Granted, not many twelve-year olds actually think they’re going to die if they do something dangerous. But I don’t want to undermine how genuinely unselfish Joshua is. Like, I think my cold, dark heart shed a few tears.
He isn’t arrogant, even when he has reason to be, and he doesn’t call attention to himself or assume that he’s the best. Instead, he puts others first like the gentleman he is. And while he disobeys his grandfather by taking the Lightning Orb, his reasons are almost honorable enough to justify his actions (not that I advocate disobeying your guardians, and the end never justifies the means). But hey, tell a twelve-year-old not to touch the mysterious, glowing thing, and what do you expect them to do?
Also, I loved the mood and the setting. I loved the feel of the story and the color scheme. I’m almost certain that, if I were younger and less hard-hearted, I would have been swept along with the plot. It wasn’t as predictable as I expected coming in, and the supporting cast was interesting—to say the least. I could never quite figure out Leandro, Hekate was a delightfully icky villain (don’t even get me started on Cronag, the Child Collector), and I fell head-over-heels for Charlie. He speaks French—am I swooning? (No, because he’s like, thirteen, and that would be totally inappropriate.)
So here are the reasons I chose to give only three stars when I wanted to give four. I understand that, with children’s stories, authors are expected to use a simpler writing style. After all, it might be a little much to ask an eleven-year-old to read CRIME AND PUNISHMENT (great book, by the way). So maybe my judgement is a little unfair—please forgive me. But be that as it may, I felt the writing lacked some of the artistry I’ve enjoyed in various other MG novels (like Stefan Bachmann’s THE PECULIAR and THE WHATNOT, J.M. Barrie’s PETER PAN, and Cornelia Funke’s INKHEART). That’s not to say there wasn’t any at all—Galanti included some great similes and some vivid word pictures. Her descriptions appealed to all five senses (though maybe she dwelt too much on how things smelled—my nose was starting to hurt). And she avoided the dreadful, book-killing info dump. (Not to mention, art is very subjective—so this is just my opinion, folks.)
But on the whole, I felt that her sentence structures tended toward the weaker side, and her grammar needed shoring up in places. (Slap me if I sound too much like a pretentious little snob. I assure you, I’ve only read, like, five grammar books.) It’s one thing to use commonly accepted grammatical errors in dialogue, especially when children are speaking. They wouldn’t sound like real kids if they talked like they’d just come home from prep school (unless, of course, you’re writing about characters who just came home from prep school, in which case, knock yourself out). But I’m a little less forgiving of grammatical errors embedded in the narrative itself. After all, kids learn English usage and grammar through reading as much as schooling, if not more. They’ll pick these things up without even realizing it. And there’s a fine line between striving for authenticity and setting a bad example. That, more than anything, is why I chose three stars instead of four. (Now excuse me while I go hide in the corner, because I’m sure there have been grammatical errors in my blog before.)
To summarize, because of grosser elements (like descriptively stinky people and snot), JOSHUA AND THE LIGHTNING ROAD may appeal more to boys than girls—or at least, that’s the impression I got. While it doesn’t have the same humor and breadth, it may still appeal to fans of PERCY JACKSON AND THE LIGHTNING THIEF. Not everyone will love it, but I don’t think it was a waste of time, and I look forward to reading the sequel, JOSHUA AND THE ARROW REALM.
Joshua is a bit of a misfit as he and his grandfather move often, but now he’s got a best friend. Until lightning strikes and his buddy Finn disappears! The only way to save Finn seems to be to beg the lightning to strike again and take Joshua. He arrives in a horrible world, the Lost Realm of Nostos, where the ancient Greek gods have withered and become powerless, but magic still exists. Those who wield it kidnap children from Earth to be their slaves and all the new arrivals are auctioned off to work in the realms of the now-uncaring old gods.
Joshua can’t find Finn, but he quickly befriends another boy and makes some gut-felt choices in whom to trust. This sets him onto a life-threatening adventure where he learns of his family’s connection to Nostos.
The story is well-told, sure to be a favorite of Percy Jackson fans, with a bit of Harry Potter thrown in. The monsters are well written and truly scary - on land, in water, and flying through the air. The connections to Greek myth are cool and interesting.
From a writing perspective, the book could have used another round of editing focusing on showing versus telling, adding more description, and watching for a few punctuation, pronoun, and head-hopping issues. The beginning is a little confusing – we don’t know the mc’s name for several pages. And it’s not necessary to use “then” quite so often, the reader knows it happens next.
But then we get bacon beer and all is forgiven! I enjoyed meeting the characters and expect them to be back in another book. I’m sure kids who enjoy adventures, especially in magical worlds, will read quickly and want more.
I received this book in exchange for a fair review. My rating is 3.5 stars, which I’ll round up to 4.