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Reading by Lightning

3.4  ·  Rating details ·  173 Ratings  ·  34 Reviews
Reading by Lightning is the story of a young woman developing a sense of herself during the Depression and World War II. In the barn loft on their prairie farm, Lily Piper listens to sermons about the Second Coming, bracing herself for the moment when they'll be snatched away to another reality. But Lily's new reality turns out to be England, where she's sent just before t ...more
Paperback, 385 pages
Published September 11th 2008 by Goose Lane Editions
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Fascinated with book 1 in the novel, we meet the MCs and settle in to the depression era terrain of the Manitoban prairie of cental Canada. Description of the realities of Lily's father's journey from England to Canada vs the minister's imaginative utopian settlement that set him on the journey; realities of prairie life hardships; relational realities of Lily's childhood journey to adulthood; intensely tangible. Now sixteen, at her grandfather's passing, Lily's father sends her to England to ca ...more
Aban (Aby)
May 20, 2011 rated it liked it
The novel follows Lily Piper from her childhood on a farm in Manitoba, to England at the outbreak of World War 11, and back to Manitoba where she takes over the running of the family farm. The novel explores Lily's feelings about herself, her relations with her parents and with two significant young men in her life. The characters are well developed and the language is faultless. However, this is one of the most low-key and understated books I have read and, while this should be a positive featu ...more
Oct 01, 2017 rated it it was ok
It was a slog. Took a long time to get through it.
Sue Smith
Oct 12, 2010 rated it liked it
I really had no expectations when I decided to pick up this book, other than it seemed to have good regard from various goodreads patrons. So I wandered into it somewhat aimlessly. It's not a genre I normally devour - but I like to mix up my novel types to keep a broad base of interests. This book unfortunately, didn't really do it for me. Don't get me wrong - Joan Thomas can write beautifully. I could feel the harsh cold of a Manitoba winter down to my bones!! But the story just seemed to be - ...more
Steven Buechler
Jul 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
The coming-of-age novel is always a fantastic read. It is even more so if the book documents a time,: place, culture or gender that may be unfamiliar with the reader. In turn the reader may learn a little bit of insight that improves their own understanding or lives. Joan Thomas' novel Reading by Lightning is such a novel.

Page 11-12
I run down the wooden steps and there's Charlotte Bates standing beside the ice chest with a boy. both of them are drinking root beer from bottles. Hello, Lily, says
Jan 12, 2009 rated it liked it
Reading by Lightning by Joan Thomas, published by Goose Lane Editions, made its way into my mailbox from Mini Book Expo. It's a coming of age novel at a time that the world is on the brink of World War II, particularly in England.

It took me a long while to get into this book, more than 100 pages, which was disheartening. In Book One readers will wander through Lily Piper's musings and her interactions or lack thereof with her parents. The wavering narrative and tangents of Lily drag on for long
Nov 18, 2010 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Shonna Froebel
Nov 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: canadian
This book has had numerous award nominations and wins ( first novel award nominee, Book of the Year for Manitoba Reads, and Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best First Book, Canada and the Caribbean) but more importantly it is a really good read.
We follow Lily Piper from her home on the Manitoba prairies in a community of strict Christianity, to England where she cares for her aging grandmother after her grandfather's death and explores her father's origins. She is in Lancashire for the
Diane Schuller
Jan 14, 2016 rated it it was ok
Had to read this for book club but it was very slow going in the beginning and difficult to get into. This is one of those books that, had I picked it to read, would have abandoned it long ago. Since it was for book club I felt compelled to finish it.

Although the author liberally utilizes some very nice turns of phrase and imagery, the story itself was weak and lacking. It was also difficult to determine what was going on at times because of how she jumps forwards and backwards in such an abrupt
Sep 18, 2010 rated it really liked it
Beautiful language. I enjoyed this book on many levels. The characters are complicated, the plot as well. The character development was really nicely done. Even in their most pathetic states, the characters evoke respect and sympathy. The story touches on early colonization of Saskatchewan, farm life, British immigrants, war in England. But the themes are much more personal -- family relationships, love, faith, etc. Even epilepsy. We are unescapably shaped by the experiences and inheritances of ...more
Aug 04, 2011 rated it liked it
Took me a while to get into it - I kept putting it down and then picking it back up again. I think part of the problem for me was how it is written - None of the dialogue is in quotes, so there were many times I didn't realize it was actually not the narrator's thoughts, but someone speaking. And because I picked it up and put it down so many times I had to re-adjust each time. I finally took it outdoors one sunny afternoon and finished it. I should have done that from the get go and made it vac ...more
Sep 09, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: book-club
This was a very satisfying read for me. I liked the location of rural Manitoba and the history of the settlement of Western Canada by the Barr Colonists. It was a harsh life for those early immigrants and in Lily Piper's story we see the results. For me this is a coming of age story that was beautifully written. Lily grows up in a household that is silent about most of the important things. Her parent's histories, health, love and family. Much of what she learns comes from observation and conjec ...more
Apr 23, 2014 rated it liked it
When I read Joan Thomas's book Curiosity I was enthralled by her writing and the story of paleantologist Mary Anning so I quickly got her book Reading by Lightning. My expectations were dampened quickly as this book is low key, slow to move and the character Lily just seems to float through life on the edge of everything that happens to her. I had a hard time relating to her because her reactions were dulled and distant as if she was standing on the outside looking in. However, the writing is go ...more
Aug 28, 2009 rated it really liked it
I was frequently blown away by Thomas' use of language and the books general smartness. Told almost entirely from Lily's point of view (there are a couple of sections that tell the story of her father's arrival in Canada that provide a break from Lily) I felt that the novel's energy was hampered by Lily's inability(?) to emotionally (and to a certain extent intellectually) engage with the people that surround her. Even the England section were Lily is seemingly happy is restrained. I wonder if m ...more
May 16, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: award-winners
I always look for award-winners as I read many, many books and am sometimes disappointed in quality. RBL is an award-winner and I learned much from it. The story is set in 2 different locales and I felt for the girl as she tried to balance responsibilities with just concerns for her own welfare. I didn't agree with all her decisions, but I felt what each character went through as she did the deciding. I think you'll all enjoy the story and learn some different cultural traits, historical facts a ...more
Oct 06, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2010
Beautiful language and historical description. At some points, I wanted to just savour the writing in this book. I liked the historical nature of the plot and learned a lot about the Barr Colonists and World War 2. The characters were well rounded and well depicted. There were a few plot points that bugged, but I won't go into description of them here for fear of giving something away.

Edited to add- I agree with the reviewer who said that the descriptions in Manitoba were much more lush and fle
Apr 11, 2009 rated it really liked it
Very good book by Winnipeg author Joan Thomas. It is a young woman's coming of age story set in 1930s and second world war rural Manitoba and England. Beautiful characterization and interesting insights into the folly of people like Isaac Barr who believed the English to be superior human beings and, therefore, destined to be superior Canadian farmers. Here's hoping Thomas tries her hand at another novel. Good stuff.
Jax Wood
Jul 14, 2009 rated it really liked it
Stark and clear, this book makes a dramatic shift from 1930s depression-era Canadian praries to urban pre--war England. I'm more interested in prarie stories right now so I'm sort of dragging in this part of the novel but I will perservere. I also find that Joan Thomas holds back too much on her primary character - there is an aspect to her identity that is not present for me. However, it is beautifully written and I look forward to reviewing again when it is done.
Jan 08, 2010 rated it really liked it
A girl's coming of age story, set in rural Manitoba in the 40s. A fascinating look at the beginning of Canada. Lily spends 4 years in England, but the descriptions of everything around her in Manitoba are much more vivid than the English ones. She seems detached and unhappy most of the time, which drags the story down a bit, but necessary to give you a glimpse of her life - her relationship with mother etc. Bleak but beautiful.
Aug 28, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
Joan Thomas has a beautiful way with language and I enjoyed her writing style. However I felt that the story itself was a bit lackluster. I could certainly empathize with the main character and felt for her trials with her cold mother, dysfunctional father, and restrictive life growing up. It just never seemed to get going and Lily's life seemed to come right back to where she had been in her childhood. Not a bad read, but nothing too exciting. I did think the title was very catchy though.
Feb 03, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Thoroughly enjoyed this book. Beautiful language, fascinating characters, interesting settings (Manitoba/England pre/during WWII)- the whole package. Highly recommended. Deserves to be nominated for a fiction award.
Nov 28, 2012 rated it liked it
This book is a first novel and has won many prizes. I found it slow going but was only reading it in small doses. The characters are fascinating. It is interesting to see Lily grow up against the background of rural Manitoba and England before and during World War II.
Rhea Tregebov
Another wonderful book by this very gifted author.
Apr 27, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: book-club-reads
Beautiful language.
Wendy Van
Feb 24, 2011 rated it really liked it
Loved, loved, loved it.
Dec 15, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2009, canadiana, fiction
My grade 11 Honours English teacher wrote this. Novelty! Won a lot of national book prizes this year.
Barbara McEwen
Jun 07, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: canadian
I enjoyed the writing itself but I got a bit bored from time to time. Underwhelmed by the story?
Claire Morris
loved it
Jul 29, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: canadian-authors
A good "search for self"story in a setting where there's little context for it. Real, honest and achingly futile with an ending that doesn't wrap everything up in a pretty bow. I liked it.
May 31, 2012 rated it liked it
I enjoyed the language, the characters, and the story. At times it was a little hard to follow as the author didn't use quotation marks, and she also changed the point of view from time to time.
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The Opening Sky won the McNally Robinson Award, was named a CBC Book of the Year, and was shortlisted for the 2014 Governor Generals Award for Fiction. Visit Joan Thomas at
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