Lightning Bugs And Aliens: A Small Town Coming-Of-Age Story

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It is 1959, and thirteen-year-old Ben lives in the small town of Twinsburg, Ohio. There was no Wi-Fi, no one had cell phones, and there wasn’t much in the way of television, but there were woods to explore and streams where fish ran. Kids generally spent their summer days outside, playing with friends and finding whatever adventure they could.

Ben has a group of friends who spend a lot of time together. Chip is mechanically minded and works with Ben doing odd jobs. Bobby Kollman lives next door and loves football. Mark Garnett is athletic and can run like the wind. Isiah Robinson lives up in “The Hill,” the part of town where Black people live. Schools and businesses are not segregated, but The Hill is the only place Black people live.

Ben’s father and Grandpa George run a tavern. A man named Wally, a Black man, works for Grandpa George, and they seem to be friends as well. Every month or so, Angelo Cosentino visits the tavern, and he does some business with Grandpa George. One day that summer, when Angelo starts his car, it blows up. Ben’s grandparents seem nervous about whether or not people might know about their business with Angelo. Later, Grandpa George gives Ben a ring he says will keep Ben safe.

Chip and Ben sneak into the drive-in to see a sci-fi movie about aliens, and there is much on the news about UFOs. Ben and Chip have strange dreams, and Bobby and Mark see mysterious lights over the hobo camp in the woods. The boys get it in their heads aliens are headed for Twinsburg, and they think they know where and when it will happen. They put a plan in place to be there.

They wait a short time, and suddenly there are five aliens that seem to mirror the boys. Nothing much happens, but Mark passes out. Chip picks him up and the boys all take off running. When the boys meet the next day, Chip declares the aliens came to get the boys to change the way things are done on Earth. They all agree to stay in touch through the years and meet often.

Daniel Babka has written an interesting story that reads more like a memoir than a typical middle-grade book, although young readers, particularly reluctant readers, might well appreciate the brevity. At under eighty pages, it makes for a very quick read. The cadre of boys may remind readers of the group in Stephen King’s The Body. The writing is fine with excellent description and a solid setting that will transport readers to mid-twentieth-century middle America.

Babka also sprinkles in quite a few historical facts that enhance the trip back in time and will give young readers some fun information. The first half of the story concerns itself mainly with family information and stories surrounding the tavern that really have little to do with the main story of the boys encountering the aliens and seem like an attempt to extend a short story into a book. That said, this is a fun and interesting read that would be enjoyed by adults as well as middle-graders.

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Author Daniel Babka
Star Count 4/5
Format Trade
Page Count 135 pages
Publisher Blue Squirrel Press
Publish Date 13-Oct-2013
ISBN 9780991060153 Buy this Book
Issue February 2023
Category Historical Fiction