Lightning Mary

Publisher: Andersen Press

Review

In the early 1800s, Mary grows up in a poor household in Lyme Regis, where her father collects and sells fossils (or, devil’s toenails and ram’s horns, as the young Mary calls them). As Mary grows older, she begs to be taken on a fossil hunt, and eventually her father agrees, even though the beach is perilous and landslides have killed many men.

After her father dies following a terrible accident, Mary takes on the role of fossil dealer with her mother who is determined that they won’t end up in the workhouse following Mary’s father death. Mary doesn’t give up looking for something special, and one day she finds it.

Lightning Mary tells the true story of Mary Anning, a Victorian palaentologist whose discoveries of the ichthyosaur (followed by a plesiosaur and pterosaur) contributed to changes in scientific thinking about the history of the earth.

Mary’s story of eventual triumph over adversity is told expertly by Simmons, who doesn’t stint in reminding us just how hard life was for the young Mary. Simmons shows us the challenges of class, poverty and the expectations of women that Mary was subject to, but also how her passion, hard work and stubbornness helped her transcend those considerable restrictions. A brilliant read.

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