Title: The Lightning Catcher
Author: Clare Weze
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Publisher: Bloomsbury Australia
Published: 18th May 2021
Synopsis: Alfie has noticed a few things since his family moved to Folding Ford. He really misses life in the city. He and his sister don’t exactly fit in here. But the most interesting one is that the weather is BONKERS. One frost-covered branch on one tree in the middle of Summer? A tiny whirlwind in a bucket in the garden? Only in Folding Ford.
Armed with his bike, a notepad and his new best mate Sam, Alfie is going to investigate. His best clue is Nathaniel Clemm … the only thing in town weirder than the weather. When Alfie ‘investigates’ Mr Clemm’s garden, only SLIGHTLY illegally, he finds a strange box that freezes his trainers and makes his teeth tingle. And when he opens it, only SLIGHTLY deliberately, SOMETHING gets out. Something fast, fizzing and sparking with electricity and very, very much alive. But the creature from the box brings trouble of its own, and as barometers and tempers go haywire in Folding Ford, Alfie finds himself at the centre of a perfect storm.
Skellig meets Stranger Things in this funny, heartfelt adventure story perfect for fans of Ross Welford, Christopher Edge and Frank Cottrell Boyce.
Alfie and his family have moved to a new town – Folding Ford. They stand out because they do not look like everyone else – Alfie and his sister are black, and his dad is always away in Sweden for work. The move to Folding Ford occurred to help his sister Lily, who has spent two years struggling with being bullied. Yet their new home is strange for more than just the demographics. The weather is bizarre. They’re in the middle of summer, and frost is everywhere. When Alfie begins to investigate what makes the town and its weather so … bonkers as Alfie puts it. Is it connected to Nathaniel Clemm and Ash House? Or to the strange creature Alfie and his friend Sam have named Whizzy, who appeared from a box, and seems to have some sort of powers over electricity, fire and all manner of weather phenomena. As Alfie and Sam try to navigate these strange, bizarre and unusual weather patterns, things start to go wrong. Alfie is struggling – but will anyone notice before it is too late that he needs help whilst they’re so focused on helping his sister, Lily?
This is a story of friendship, overcoming those things beyond our control and belief – the belief in ourselves, what we are capable of, and those around us. In a world where it feels as though the strange goings on are ignored, where when a bad thing happens, everyone tries to find someone else to blame, this story explores the idea that there can be more to the story than meets the eye. That sometimes, inexplicable and unexplainable things do happen – that no experts can explain. Sometimes, we just have to go along with it, and isn’t that half the fun, half the journey? Being able to believe something, and to find a way to unite the family again. I loved that the people in the latter half of this book and Alfie’s family were behind him 100% – it showed the strength and power of a community and what fighting for something you believe in, and for your family.
Told in journal format, we see the events and experience what happens through Alfie’s eyes, so there are times when there are gaps – because it is Alfie’s recollection and he can only tell us what he remembers, so this works, as you have to continue to read to uncover each little bit, to piece together what is happening with Alfie, Sam, Whizzy and everything else that is happening in the town. What I liked about this book is that the characters were allowed to be who they were – differences were pointed out to present an image of Alfie, Sam, Lily and Folding Ford, and from there, they were allowed to be. Things could be inferred, but were not always said outright, which is the beauty of this book, as it then allows people to take what they understand as important from this book, especially as more is uncovered about what the characters are going through.
Again, because it is seen through Alfie’s eyes, we may not always get every detail about how something is affecting Lily, but we feel Alfie’s frustration. He feels ignored as his parents focus solely on his sister, as they have for the past two years. It has heart, and the power of a sibling relationship that starts out as rocky but then allows them to grow and allows Lily to start standing up for her brother and helping him. It shows that life is complex and that there is always more going on than somebody might let on. We might not know everything until it is too late or until something dramatic happens. The role of Whizzy and weather in this book seemed to reflect the uncertainty of life and what was going on around the characters – cleverly used to expose emotions and the sense of never truly being in control of what happens in your life.
This is a story filled with heart and allows the reader to understand something about the world that they may not, or to learn to accept things based on faith and belief rather than hard evidence, as we sometimes need to do to ensure the world makes sense. I recommend this book to middle grade readers looking for something a little different, but still heart-felt and filled with hope.