The Plot: In the late 21st century, a world ending comet approaches Earth. Petra and her family are fortunate enough to take passage in a massive spaceship bound for a planet in another star system. They are placed in a type of cryo-sleep during the long journey. When Petra wakes up almost 400 years later, she finds that the ship has been taken over by a political group with radical ideas about social assimilation. To save the few people who still remember the old ways of Earth culture, Petra draws on the Mexican folk stories of her childhood.
My Take: The Newbery Medal winner of 2022! I was impressed by author Donna Barba Higuera’s blending of science fiction and folktales. She neatly balances life on a futuristic space ship with old Mexican stories in a way that enriches the story. This creates a narrative that is driven less by physical action sequences and more by Petra’s slow understanding of her situation and her persuasive efforts to awaken the other people from earth. I had to smile when she mentioned rebuilding society after the pandemic of the 20’s. I highly recommend this intelligent handling of a dystopian storyline to middle grade readers and teens.
One Interesting Note About The Author: According the her author website, Donna Barbara Higuera’s favorite hobbies growing up “were calling dial-a-story over and over again, and sneaking into a restricted cemetery to weave her own spooky tales using the crumbling headstones as inspiration.”
The Plot: Bell is a kid who has spent most of his life in a colony on Mars. He and a dozen other people live a subterranean existence watching out for dust storms and waiting for the next supply ship. Conflict on earth has prevented contact with other small colonies on Mars established by other nations. When the adults in the colony are sickened by a strange illness, Bell and the other young people must find a way to reach out for help before their food and oxygen run out.
My Take: I often have trouble finding good science fiction books to recommend to young readers. Thankfully the ‘Lion of Mars’ is an enjoyable read and definitely falls squarely into the sci-fi genre. Holm does an excellent job giving the reader a sense of how important the relationships within the colony are to its survival. It was also interesting to contemplate how fascinated the young people were with Earth. It certainly drove home the point of how much we take for granted on our beautiful planet.
One Interesting Note About The Author: The impetus for this book came from Jennifer Holm’s father who was a fighter pilot during the Korean War. Nursing a lifelong interest in space, Jennifer learned that many of the early astronauts were also Korean War pilots.
Plot: The tripods arrived about a hundred years ago. Some say that they came from outer space, other claim that they were invented by humans and turned on them. Either way, they currently rule over humanity. They consolidate control over the minds of men by “capping” them. When a person grows old enough, perhaps around their 14th birthday, they are taken into a tripod and a net of metal is enmeshed into their flesh.
Will Parker is an adolescent on the cusp of this rite of passage. The village in which Will lives, however, is altogether ignorant of the deleterious effects of the caps. It is but a way of life for them. As the date approaches, he receives information from a drifter that the caps are mind control devices. But there is hope. A group of people live in the White Mountains, far to the south. These people are uncapped, live in freedom, and fight against the tripods.
Stealing away from home, Will is determined to make it to the White Mountains. His cousin Henry Parker joins him and together the boys travel at night to avoid detection. Along the way they encounter clues as to the history of the tripods and how best to destroy them.
Personal Reaction: John Christopher’s death last year prompted me to revisit this book. I was perhaps 10 years old the last time that I read it. I loved it then and I still enjoy it 20 some years later. I love the juxtaposition of the low-tech feudal world that Will inhabits and the high tech tripods. It is a classic underdog, David vs. Goliath tale.
One troubling spot for me as a reader was an abrupt shift in the plot that occurs about halfway through the book. The boys are taken in by a Comte and Comtesse and taken to La Chateau de la Tour Rouge, essentially a tower and surrounding structures for knights and servants. What follows are scenes of high Medieval times reminiscent of something out of King Arthur. It lasts for a chapter or so and then our boys on their way again, dodging tripods and trying to make it to the White Mountains. The scenes are engaging, but they felt disjointed to me and seemed almost to exist as filler. Perhaps Christopher is merely laying groundwork for future plot points farther into the series.
Themes: dystopian future, mind control, free will, individual vs. society, side effects of technology, aliens
Beginning with those famous words “it was a dark and stormy night,” A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’engle remains as readable as when it was first published in 1962. A Newberry Medal winner, it mixes science fiction, fantasy, philosophy and religion in an interstellar adventure that will appeal to both children and adults.
Plot: Meg Murry’s father has been missing for over a year and it weighs heavily on her family. She, her genius younger brother Charles Wallace, and friend Calvin O’keefe find themselves visited by three strange women. Cloaked in rags and white robes, Mrs. Who, Mrs. Which and Mrs. Whatsit “tesser” the three children across the universe to a planet that is being consumed by a dark force. Known only as IT, this power seeks to dominate societies into a collective conformity. Meg and her companions must avoid the tempation of being sucked in by IT while rescuing Mr. Murry.
I love this book because it celebrates the triumph of love, creativity and intellectualism over the forces of darkness. A wonderful read for children ages 8 to 13.