Stray Voltage

Eugenie Doyle

A boy grapples with his mother’s decision to give up the farm.

Ian Daley lives with his father, mother, and older brother on a dairy farm in northern Vermont. Times are hard for small farmers and they only get harder when a winter ice strom brings down the power lines and stray voltage gets loose on the farm, randomly shocking humans and animals alike, putting the cows off their milking. The, one day, Ian’s Mom up and leaves. Ian doesn’t know where she’s gone or for how long. Ian’s dad, always gruff and non-communicative, becomes morose, while his brother checks out. Ian’s loneliness grows and grows as he struggles with his mother’s abandonment, his own divided loyalties, and his evolving sense of self.

  • Ages: 11 - 14
  • Grades: 6 - 9
  • Pages: 136

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Recent Reviews

7 A sparely eloquent, deeply moving family story.


7 Like the central image of her novel, Doyle’s debut is quietly electrifying. ... Doyle’s prose gracefully metes out the rhythm of farm life, capturing the silence and beauty as well as the unrest lurking beneath the surface. …Readers may well close this mesmerizing gem of a novel believing, like Ian, that the Vermont landscape itself has the power to heal.

—Publishers Weekly

7 Powerful writing, in a gentle, low-key style, sets this apart from the standard teen angst offering; its climax will leave readers breathless … it is sure to strike a deep chord. Doyle is an exciting new voice and definitely someone to watch.

—Kirkus Reviews

7 A fine choice for reluctant readers.

—School Library Journal

Doyle presents a view of modern farm life reminiscent of A Thousand Acres; there’s acute and sympathetic realism in the depiction of the changing life of the farm, where the family livelihood is sapped from underground and even the most iron-fisted patriarch must bow to the force of the marketplace. Ian does make his way beyond the bleakness of his mother’s abandonment and his father’s estrangement, though, and his hard-won resolve to set his own goals is satisfying and right.

—Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

In this stern, uncompromising novel, the story is not a despairing one. As if to counteract the stray voltage, another more hopeful symbol runs through in the appearances of the Hale-Bopp comet in the clear winter nights above the farm. At the low ebb of the Daley’s fortunes, the comet puts on its most spectacular display, filling Ian with a sense of wonder, and helping to sustain his will to endure a bleak situation. The book is short, simple, and direct, and thus quite approachable for a reluctant reader who is not counting on a cheerful story or a contrived happy ending.

—Voice of Youth Advocates

Honors for Stray Voltage

  • Sunshine State Young Readers Award Master List Nominee