'The Buddha Of Lightning Peak' By Yudron Wangmo
When battling to save a mountain, a young black lesbian discovers her true self.
Seventeen-year-old high school student Dee Adair has a stressful life. Her younger brother is in juvenile detention for drug dealing, her grandmother is a heartless homophobic bully, and her ex-girlfriend causes her grief every time they meet. To her horror, she then discovers that Lightning Peak, a mountain near the camp where she’s been working through the summer, is scheduled for destruction. Dee has recently been exploring two key things that have been bringing her some sense of calm and peace in her chaotic life—the nature and beauty of Lightning Peak and its surrounding ecosystem, and Buddhism. For a young black woman, neither of these things is particularly common but she’s prepared to risk the scorn of her family and school friends to pursue the things that make her happy. When she discovers the mountain has been taken over by a mining company who plan to flatten the peak, she leaps into action in a desperate attempt to save it.
I love it when a book takes me by surprise in the way this one did. When I read the blurb and the author’s bio, I feared this novel would be overly-religious and spiritual and, as an atheist, that I would therefore struggle to engage with the characters and story. I’m happy to report my fears were totally unfounded. Yes, Buddhism does play a key role in Dee’s journey through the story, but all the passages that focused on her spiritual progress worked well within the overall frame of the story without being overly preachy. And the story itself is great—there’s some family drama, a budding new romance for Dee, and some excellent twists and turns around the protests and activism Dee takes on to try and save Lightning Peak.
Dee is a lovely character. As the book is told in the first person we really get to understand her personality and how she thinks. She has a lot of learning to do about herself and about how she treats others, and the threads that explore this are heartfelt. Dee’s transition from a somewhat bitter and defensive teenager to a more rounded, thoughtful young woman is well written and the angst levels and emotional ups and downs are pitched just right. Nothing is overblown and it all flows very naturally.
The other characters are good too—I especially liked Dee’s adult friends from her Buddhist connections, and her mother too, who steps up in fantastic ways later on in the story. The romance, which comes much later in the book, is gentle and sweet. Dee coming to terms with her ex and how they can interact is excellent—it will resonate with anyone remembering their first love. The bad guys are appropriately nasty, and the action scenes that revolve around that are good—both believable and tense.
A very enjoyable read, highly recommended.