Heather has read all kinds of information about outer space and aliens. She longs to leave earth and head into the stars. So out in the woods, she picks a large rock, sits on it and shines her flashlight into the night sky, turning it on and off. She waits in the quiet darkness, until suddenly dazzling light surrounds her. A flying saucer in rainbow lights lands nearby and a friendly alien invites her on board. But when she hears her parents searching for her, Heather leaves the spaceship and returns home. Heater continued to return to the rock for years, growing up and sharing her dreams with her own children. More time passed and Heather came to the rock less often, but occasionally went with a flashlight to shine it into the sky. Then one day, it happened again. Will Heather go with the alien this time?
This picture book uses only the barest of text to support its incredible illustrations. Told primarily in a graphic novel format, the text shares information and back story with the reader. It is particularly effective to ensure that readers see the passage of time as Heather returns to the rock over the years. A handful of sentences sprinkled like stars across the black page.
The illustrations are marvelous, filled with hope and light. The rock anchors many of the images, large and unchanging despite the passage of time. Heather changes over the years, subtly putting on weight around her middle, her hair graying slightly. The light also changes, moving through seasons, streaming through the trees, remaining stubbornly non-rainbow and non-glittery until the dazzling time the spaceship returns.
Satisfying and engaging science fiction for preschoolers. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
The author of Wilder Girls returns with a novel that is a dangerous mix of fire, family and fate. Margot has always lived with just her mother, struggling to make ends meet. Her mother has strange rules, like always leaving a candle burning. Margot has always wondered about the rest of her family, her father and grandparents. When she discovers a photograph of her grandmother’s home, she finally has the key to find them. She doesn’t expect to enter the town of Phalene and be immediately recognized as a member of their family, and she certainly doesn’t expect her grandmother to be despised, living alone on a ruined farm. When a girl with Margot’s face is found dead, Margot finds herself at the heart of a mystery that she may never escape.
A dynamic combination of horror, mystery and science fiction, this book grabs readers up and doesn’t release them until the final ember dies down. It’s a book that is terrifying but also exceptionally written with a keen sense of pacing, allowing moments of revelation to slow and other moments to race past. Power deeply understands horror, giving readers just enough information to keep them guessing. Her use of a rural setting is marvelous, hearkening back to classics like Children of the Corn.
Margot is a flawed character who is prickly, challenging and demanding. In other words, the perfect heroine for a horror novel. Margot refuses to allow her mother or grandmother to control her, always pushing and questioning what they are doing. It’s what lands her back in Phalene and what gets her into the center of all of the trouble.
Smart, haunting and horrifying, this novel begs to become a horror flick. Appropriate for ages 13-16.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Delacorte Press.
Sarah and her father are meeting the dragon he hired to help clear fields on their farm. Sarah has been forbidden to talk to the dragon, and even more forcefully reminded not to tell it her name. But Sarah can’t think of the dragon as an it. The dragon is remarkable, even though he is a smaller blue dragon. As the dragon, Kazamir, and Sarah get to know one another, they must face the hatred of a local deputy along with Sarah’s boyfriend Jason. Sarah and Jason are the only people of color in town, something that gets unwelcome attention in 1957. But Sarah doesn’t know what Kazamir does, that she is part of a prophecy. The prophecy is also what is drawing an assassin from a dragon worshiping cult towards her. Malcolm is hunting her, but also being trailed by the FBI. As he approaches, he leaves a trail of bodies but also finds himself unexpectedly in love for the first time. As the moment of the prophesy nears, everything is in place but for what?
Ness as always surprises and amazes in this new novel. His world building is remarkable, combining alternative history of the late 1950’s with fantasy into a world that is entirely believable. The novel is layered and complex, becoming even more so as it continues. The book incorporates marvelous science fiction elements as well as it builds, burning hotter and hotter, making its title all the more appropriate.
Ness’ characters are just as complicated as his plot and world building. He spends time making each of the three protagonists fascinating. There is Sarah, a girl who may or may not be trapped in a prophecy but certainly is caught in poverty and yet will not give up. Malcolm may have grown up in a cult and be there weapon of destruction, but new love is a power thing, something that can change a destiny. Kazamir, the dragon, is someone readers will adore from his first sarcastic comment and quirked eyebrow.
Brilliantly built, layered and populated, this is a new world created by a master. Appropriate for ages 14-18.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Quill Tree Books.
The finalists for the 2020 Locus Awards have been announced. The awards are given for the best science fiction and fantasy of the year in a wide variety of categories that include books, magazines, artists, editors and publishers. They have one category specifically for the best YA novel. Here are the finalists in that category:
Set in a modern world where smartphones have been replaced by companion robots shaped like a variety of animals, this middle-grade novel is a dynamic mix of STEM, science fiction and robot battles. Lacey spends most of her time in her basement cave where she works on baku, the smart pets that accompany everyone around. Lacey longs to get into Profectus, the school that feeds people directly into Moncha, the company behind the bakus. She knows her grades are high enough and her test scores are strong, but she gets a rejection letter. It may be because of her mysterious father who left both their family and Moncha when Lacey was five. Then Lacey discovers a ruined baku in a ravine after saving her friend’s new baku from a fall. She works for months to restore the entire machine and when the cat baku finally comes online, Lacey receives an email that she has actually been accepted to Profectus. Jinx, the cat baku, and Lacey make their way into the elite school, but all is not what it seems both at Moncha and with Jinx.
McCullough has written a middle grade novel that is perfect for devouring quickly. It offers a hint of middle grade romance along with the science fiction and STEM elements. The technology on display is enthralling, making sense as to why it took society by storm. Readers will long for their own baku too. Lacey’s skill with technology and her dedication to it is shown very clearly, honoring the time it takes to both learn and accomplish this high-level work. The baku battles are written with clarity that allows readers to follow them easily and with strong pacing that keeps the action quick and exciting.
The relationship between Jinx and Lacey is key to the book. Using a cat form as the baku who is rather aloof and does what he wants to do, rather than being perfectly biddable and helpful, makes it really function. Elements in the novel that may not make sense early on, will by the end of the first novel, though many questions are left unanswered for future books in the series.
A great first in a new series that may make middle graders look up from their phones. Appropriate for ages 10-13.
The Sunburst Award is given “for excellence in Canadian Literature of the Fantastic.” They just announced this year’s winners in both their adult and young adult categories. Here is the winner as well as the books that were in the longlist for the young adult category:
Just as Tyler Jones is about to recruit the perfect squad, having been the top student at Aurora Academy, it all goes sideways. Hoping to burn off some of his nerves, he takes a short ride into The Fold where he discovers a girl, Aurora, who has been asleep for over 200 years. Rescuing her, means he loses his ability to recruit his squad. He is left with the dregs of the academy plus his sister and her best friend who refused to join any other squad. Their first mission is dull and boring, until suddenly they discover that Aurora has stowed away with them and brought the attention of ruthless forces bearing down on them all. As Aurora starts to show her powers, they realize she is not what she seems and that the future of the galaxy may be in their hands.
This novel is pure science fiction joy. The cast is quirky and very funny, the plot is fast moving and cleverly built, and the aliens are believable. As I read it, I kept on thinking of the first time I read a Miles Vorkosigan novel with their mix of humor and space drama that was intoxicating. This novel has that same feel, that same bubbling humor, wildly dramatic space battles, and enough character development to make it all worthwhile. Kaufman and Kristoff have created a great space opera for teens.
The wit and humor of the book is particularly noteworthy. A large part of that success is in the crew and the way they all interact together. There is the warrior with a huge heart and a grief-stricken past. The diplomat who charms but also cuts with sarcasm. The pilot who is the best around but who can’t keep her eyes off the captain. The scientist who loves firing guns a bit too much. The technician whose big brain can’t match the size of his attitude. Put them all together with a captain who loves to lead and a girl who is still coming into her own, and you have an incredible story.
One of the best science fiction novels for teens, you will not be able to put it down. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Knopf Books for Young Readers.