Lightning Mary

Andersen. Sept. 2020. 272p. pap. $9.99. ISBN 9781783448296.
Gr 5-7–This is the fictionalized story of a real-life fossil-hunter seeking to find her place in the world, at a time when science was questioned and female ambition was discouraged. When Mary Anning was a baby, she was struck by lightning. After she survived, townsfolk said she would be forever changed. Now a young woman, Mary loves following her father along the shore, helping him find treasures trapped in stone. Before long, selling fossils to wealthy visitors becomes a way of supplementing her father’s faltering carpentry trade. But when he has a life-threatening accident, the whole family must rally to make ends meet. Stuck between childhood dreams and grownup responsibilities, Mary aspires to continue the hunt. The astonishing discovery of an unknown creature’s skeleton confirms Mary’s calling. With little schooling, she quickly becomes a self-taught geologist, helped along by like-minded friends and compassionate, wealthy neighbors. Although the real-life Mary Anning did not receive much recognition during her lifetime, Simmons skillfully recreates the world in which Mary experienced her own personal triumphs and tragedies. With richly descriptive settings and well-developed characters, the story unfolds to reveal a life full of miraculous encounters and courageous actions. Only covering a few years of Mary’s life, the narrative is seemingly cut short, yet a thorough afterword succeeds in fleshing out the remainder of her story.
VERDICT This compelling fictionalization of one young geologist’s courage and ambition at the turn of the nineteenth century is an important contribution to the history of women in science.

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