Committee Picks: The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl (Review)

Posted by on Apr 7, 2019 in Featured Titles, News | No Comments

The following review of 2019 Mathical Award Winner The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty was submitted by Mathical Selection Committee members Rebecca Goldin and Mike Shaughnessy.

Asked about her first day of middle school, Lucy replies, “If I tell you it was torture, that everyone thinks I’m a freak, that I probably caught a disease from accidentally touching the bus’s handrail, that the teachers act like prison guards, and that I hated all 400 minutes of it, will you still make me go back?” “Yes,” replies her Nana.

Lucy has extraordinary mathematical talent and interest, which she cultivates as a member of an online math group whose members pose and solve math problems with one another. She also has idiosyncratic fears and behaviors that make the social aspect of school particularly challenging. She attributes her odd mannerisms and her incredible mathematics ability to being struck by lightning at age four, leading to her self-anointed title, “Lightning Girl.”  

Lucy agrees to put her homeschooling on hold for a year, and is forced to contend with her desire for friendship—and survival—in middle school. Her mathematical strengths do not absolve her of many middle school challenges, such as the fear of rejection and isolation, and the difficulty of accepting herself and others around her. A school project at a dog shelter creates an opportunity for Lucy and her classmates to take emotional risks, as well as apply their math, photography and writing skills to a cause they believe in. Drama unfolds around the friends and enemies at the school, while a beloved dog’s life hangs in the balance.

“This moving story is told with poise and clarity, embedding us in Lucy’s world as she navigates the rocky waters of friendship, family, heartbreak, emotional growth, and mathematical passion.”

As Lucy sees her own impact on the world, she moves from being a passive observer to an impassioned participant. We join Lucy as she comes to terms with her strengths and foibles, becoming herself amid the awkward conflicts and joyous successes of middle school years. This moving story is told with poise and clarity, embedding us in Lucy’s world as she navigates the rocky waters of friendship, family, heartbreak, emotional growth, and mathematical passion.

The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl
By Stacy McAnulty
Random House Children’s Books, 2018
2019 Mathical Award Winner, Grades 3-5


Rebecca Goldin is Professor of Mathematical Sciences, George Mason University, and director of STATS, which supports journalists to use mathematics in reporting. Mike Shaughnessy is Professor Emeritus of Mathematics and Statistics at Portland State University and past president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM).