Book Review by Benjamin Dancer
Red Lightning by Laura Pritchett
Red Lightning is one of those rare stories that stays with you. I read it shortly after it was released in June 2015, and I still think about it. It’s one of those books that read like a mirror: by the time you finish it, you understand all kinds of things about yourself you never really contemplated before.
Tess, the protagonist, can be seen as woman in search of adventure. She’s got a spirit to her our younger selves can identify with. She wants to get out and experience things. She ends up smuggling drugs and people across the Mexican border. At this point in the story, Pritchett opens up a well-researched world to the reader. We get to see what that underworld is really like. How the business works. What that kind of traffic does to people.
Tess is a complicated character, full of empathy and compassion. She’s as desperate as the migrants she smuggles, and we’re attracted to her because of her heart. She’s also a mother, the type who plays the antagonist in most coming-of-age stories. She abandoned her newborn daughter to pursue the life that eventually destroyed her.
She’s the bad guy come home, only we’re rooting for her because she’s human and we can see bits of ourselves in her. Tess is a bad mom, in part, because she had a bad mom. In part because she was too young when her daughter was born to be a good mom. But mostly because the majority of her contempt and rage is directed at herself.
One way to read this story is that Tess has to learn to forgive and love herself if there is to be any hope that she’ll be redeemed.
The story is full of adventure and high stakes drama. In that regard, it reads like the TV series Breaking Bad. In the end, its Tess’ desire to be a good mom that saves her.
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Benjamin Dancer is an Advisor at a Colorado high school where he has made a career out of mentoring young people as they come of age. He also writes about parenting and education. His novel Patriarch Run will be released on October 4, 2016. You can learn more at BenjaminDancer.com.