Originally published at Views from the Tesseract:http://shanshad1.wordpress.com/2014/0... The old adage goes “you can’t judge a book by its cover” and...moreOriginally published at Views from the Tesseract:http://shanshad1.wordpress.com/2014/0... The old adage goes “you can’t judge a book by its cover” and it’s true–most of the time. Or at least, you can’t judge a book, but sometimes you might just put a lot of hope behind the book matching the cover. Which brings me to The Scavengers. From the moment I saw that cover, I wanted the book to match–because there’s soooo much good going on with that cover! Well folks, what you see on that cover? It’s pretty much a good idea of what you’re going to find inside. There’s a strong middle grade female protagonist, there’s an old abandoned car, there’s bubble cities, and yup, there are chickens too.
Welcome to a near future, an imagined dystopia where the weather and safety is breaking down, making it a risky buisiness to live on the land. People have two choices in this brave new world, to live in promised safety and happiness underBubble in great domed cities, or to struggle to survive OutBubble, on a land with unpredictable weather, fierce predators and no modern conveniences. Maggie, aka Ford Falcon is a twelve-year-old whose family lives OutBubble, scavenging what they can find to make a life. With her father acting strangely and her mother caring for her younger brother, it’s up to Ford Falcon to help take care of her family. She knows how to scare off a fierce solar bear and face down a whole milling mob of GreyDevils. She’s strong and capable and able to face just about anything that life throws her way (other than a certain villainous rooster). But when her family goes missing, this gutsy tween will need all her resources to survive and plan a rescue.
Where to start? Let’s start with the first person narrator, Maggie. Our protagonist has decided that in the face of the rough new world she lives in, she needs a new name, so she christens herself “Ford Falcon” taking the name from the abandoned car that she’s claimed as her own. This is a girl who has looked danger in the eyes and figured out she’d rather face it than run from it. Her voice in the narrative ranges from thoughtful to funny, but always honest as she pulls readers into her world. Ford Falcon’s not yet into the open teenage rebellion years–but she’s got an independent streak a mile long and it serves her well in her environment. It doesn’t hurt that she’s is genuinely likable–a character with an earthy “can-do” attitude, a streak of temper and just enough vulnerability for reader’s to really identify with her. Ford Falcon’s first person narration of the story never falters. From her ongoing exasperation with the local rooster and his hacking crow, to her taking time out for “the Earl and poetry”, Ford Falcon continually shows herself not to be a caricature or a stereotype, but a solid character with her flaws, quirks and strengths. While it’s not uncommon in tween fiction featuring adventure and rescue to have the protagonist joined by a friend, or group of friends in pursuit of their goal, it’s fairly rare to find a lone female protagonist in this kind of story. Not that Maggie is completely alone, but she acts for herself, and puts the weight of the world on her own shoulders.
Ford Falcon does have a best friend, but he’s not a kid. “Toad” as he’s called is an old man who has lived on the land for years. His kindness to her entire family in helping them get settled and support and feed themselves is truly a lifesaver. Toad’s relationship with young Ford Falcon is something special. He’s the unapologetic friend who teaches Ford Falcon all the kinds of survival tricks she’ll need, he’s the one who gives her a hunting knife, and he’s the one who never doubts her abilities. When her own father disappears for long hours and sometimes days and her mother wishing she’d act more refined, Toad embraces Maggie as Ford Falcon without reservation. Of course Toad is a quirky individual himself, constantly engaging in wordplay, mixing up words in spoonerisms, using pig latin, or simply mangling the language to what he wishes it to be.
For all that I love the literary aspect of Toad’s wordplay, it winds up being my one real issue with this novel. Toad delights in his wild language and everything out of his mouth is somehow mangled or recreated rather than direct speech. While that’s charming when we first meet him, the device is used a little too often in the first few chapters, and it may turn some readers off the story. It makes reading any passage of conversation with him more challenging, and while I don’t mind it occasionally, the frequency of it pulled me out of the story a few times. Like a character with a colorful accent or conversational tic, it’s useful to add flavor and quirky humor–but in small doses. Too much feels saturated and overdone.
The story takes place in a near future that imagines what North America might be like as climate change continues. The author imagines genetic manipulation of animals and plants taken to whole new levels–and most of it not so good. In this world, the giant company that manipulates the DNA of their corn has conspired with the government to move most of the people into Bubble cities and seize the land for their corn production. It’s pretty obvious who the villains are–and it’s also pretty clear where the author’s views lie in regards to these issues. But the dystopian setting stands as more of a backdrop to the protagonist’s relationship with her family and how she sets about rescuing them. It’s Ford Falcon’s story and it’s a good one.
This is Michael Perry’s first book for kids, and I’ve got to say, I think he nails it. I suspect our author found inspiration for our characters’ lives OutBubble from his own experiences. His adult memoir, Coop: A Year of Poultry, Pigs and Parenting (2009) seems to have a lot of farming trials and challenges of the sorts that face Ford Falcon and her family. And the plot description on Goodreads mentions that Michael owns a Ford Falcon . . . so it definitely implies he used pieces of his own experiences to color in his characters lives.
Does anyone know if there’s an official term for the inclusion of real book titles in other books? I couldn’t find one when I checked. The Scavengers includes three real book titles–all of which help to forge the character of Ford Falcon. The first of these is Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder (c1935). This is the book that Maggie learns to read with, and seems utterly appropriate for their lifestyle on a different sort of frontier. The second is The American Boy’s Handy Book by Daniel Carter Beard (c1880) and yes, this is a real book. The third is The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, this is a book that sort of defines Maggie’s relationship with her mother and their sessions of tea and poetry. The love of books pours through the pages of this story–and how a writer can speak to the heart of someone lifetimes in the future. For a story that’s about living on a futuristic frontier, rescuing family and uncovering corporate plots and secrets, it’s a surprisingly literary book
This is Michael Perry’s first book for middle grade readers, and he’s done an amazing job of balancing the adventure and suspense with a satisfying ending. There’s room here for a series if he so chooses, but the story can stand on its own. This is among my favorite reads so far this year and I can’t wait to hand it to my young readers hungry for more books!
Note: An advanced reader copy was provided by the publisher.(less)
Review originally posted at Views from the Tesseract: http://shanshad1.wordpress.com/2014/0... When you really love the first book in a series, there’s...moreReview originally posted at Views from the Tesseract: http://shanshad1.wordpress.com/2014/0... When you really love the first book in a series, there’s always the question of whether the next book will live up to the freshness and “magic” that the original work introduced. I admit that I approach series with a mixture of pure readerly excitement and reviewer caution. The first book in a series is a new creation–the second is diving back into that creation–recapping the important stuff for new readers and finding the momentum that will keep the story moving forward with similar energy and excitement. Not every author succeeds at doing this. But some authors? Some manage to write something even better.
Two years after the events in The Jupiter Pirates: Hunt for the Hydra (December 2013), the crew of the Shadow Comet is back! It’s the year 2895 and humankind has expanded their civilization to further reaches of their own solar system. Citizens of the Jovian union have been in conflict with Earth for years, and the Hashoones are a family of privateers that work for the Jovian Union and seize ships belonging to Earth and her allies. Fourteen-year-old Tycho, his twin sister Yana and older brother Carlos are still in competition as to who will ultimately become the next captain of their ship. Things have not been particularly sterling for this family of privateers since their last adventure. Pickings have been slim, and the crew is itching for some kind of excitement and challenge. And that challenge arrives in the form of a treasure hunt. When the Shadow Comet encounters an old ship out in space with clues to an ancient treasure, it proves irresistible to the three Hashoone siblings. The treasure of the Iris was rumored to be worth quite a large sum indeed . . . and it was a treasure that their great-grandfather had a hand in stealing. But delving into the past for treasure may also dig up old family secrets and the Hashoones aren’t the only ones who want to discover where the treasure of the Iris is hidden. . . .
If you enjoyed the first Jupiter Pirates book, I think I can safely say you’ll continue to enjoy the series as it unrolls in this book. Jason Fry has confident stride in his storytelling that is pure pleasure–even for this reading pro. Fans who’ve read the first book will have little trouble picking the story again, but new readers shouldn’t find themselves swimming blind for too long either, I found this to be a second book that can stand on its own. A space-adventure featuring family drama, political and criminal entanglements and a solid treasure hunt as its main story arc. It’s the kind of science fiction or space opera that so rarely is done right for kids–but succeeds here mightily. Given the fact that our characters are two years older, this second story is just on the edge of YA territory, but I think it still falls solidly into middle grade readership.
First off, I love visiting a universe where we can see what’s going on to pilot a spaceship–plenty of nuts and bolts, mundane particulars. These are stories that give you vivid visuals of not only the external, but the internal make up of The Shadow Comet. Rather than give us a glossed over version of the craft and its workings, the author makes you feel like its a real working vehicle–not a spaceship made with magic and moonbeams, but a craft put together with sweat and spit and held together by improvisation and duct tape. These aren’t show pieces, straight off the lot, but the real deal. In fact, these crafts put me in mind of the space-western anime series Cowboy Bebop, or Joss Whedon’s Firefly series.
Tycho is our protagonist, though we get to know his butt-kicking, take-no-prisoners sister Yana and his older more practically inclined brother, Carlo. Tycho is the thoughtful one of the three–the one readers are really getting to know and understand. He’s growing into who he’ll be–facing tough choices about his own actions and desires versus how they’ll affect others. Jason Fry has done a marvelous job of putting Tycho into some difficult positions that cause him to question the pirate philosophy his family embraces, and beginning to reveal a darker and dangerous path of intrigue and deals that Tycho has to navigate. He’s no longer a boy just learning how to be a privateer, he’s a young man coming into his own, taking initiative . . .and maybe making some worrying decisions. Likewise, Tycho’s family is shown to be far from perfect, with their own secrets and scandals from the past.
I can’t really predict where any of this will go, which is a lovely thing all on its own. Too often it’s pretty easy to guess where a story arc will end up, but Jason Fry isn’t revealing all his cards in one shot.
**Minor spoiler and speculation**
There’s a slimy character in this book named DeWise that I just feel is going to be trouble for Tycho in the future. Maybe it’s just the fact that he reminds me of Mr Morden from Babylon 5, but I don’t trust him and his plans at all. I hope Tycho can steer clear of DeWise in the future, but I fear we haven’t seen the last of him!
**end of spoiler**
I will point out to readers who may like their science fiction strongly based on actual science fact, this series does take liberties–a fact Jason Fry freely admits in putting these books together. But for readers who enjoy a good adventure, particularly space adventure, this should be a good fit. If you haven’t tried these books yet, you may want to start with the first one, but you can still dive in without reading the original. Be prepared for fun, treasure and pirates! Arrrr!
Want to find out more? Check out the author’s Official Jupiter Pirates website!
Also check out my interview with Jason Fry here.
Note: An advanced uncorrected proof was provided by the author.(less)
Your school days were never like this! Science, science fiction and adventure combine in this second story from the Sci Hi series. This time our intre...moreYour school days were never like this! Science, science fiction and adventure combine in this second story from the Sci Hi series. This time our intrepid team of students goes underwater . . .
In a near future world where technology is a bit more advanced than our own, Sidney Jamison is just your average curious kid with a penchant for taking things apart and figuring out how they work . . . and maybe getting them back together again. Okay, so Sidney isn’t quite so average, and neither is his school. Fourteen year old Sid is attending the elite school for budding scientific minds, Sci Hi where he and his friends, Penny and Hari can’t seem to keep themselves out of trouble–or adventures!
The class is invited to participate in the study at WAVElab of the world’s first fusion reactor–a not to be missed opportunity! But the class only just arrives when things take a turn for the worse. Scientists are going missing, just suddenly gone from the underwater lab. The new fusion reactor isn’t just creating energy it’s creating strange anomalies in the time and space around the lab and something terrifying has come on board . . . With time running out, it’s going to be up to Sid and his classmates to battle monsters, rescue the crew and explore the rips in time and space to see what lies beyond them.
Look around for middle grade books that deal with the possibilities of parallel dimension and multiverse theory in a science fiction frame work and you’ll find fairly slim pickings out there. Ripple Effect manages to tackle the idea admirably well–and give readers a great science fiction monster to boot! These are short and sweet stories: clocking in at 168 pages makes this a pretty quick read and perfect for those younger or more reluctant readers who are looking for an exciting story but intimidated by too much narrative. Swiftly turning pages full of action and characters are combined with black and white illustrations. Some of these illustrations are full page scenes from the story, while others are diagram line-drawings that depict a tool or building. I love some of the scene images, but I must confess to having a real love of the tech diagrams. Most science fiction works won’t give kids a real nuts and bolts approach to the items and structures described, and the benefit of having these in the books is that it reinforces possibility. Rather than this stuff simply being pulled out of thin air to benefit the storytelling, it can exist as a concrete idea of something possible to invent and construct.
For those interested, I reviewed the first book in this series, Hive Mind here. In the review I explained why books like this are so essential to make available to young readers. They are series books, meant to be read as an ongoing series of adventures, much like other fantasy adventure series and mystery series out there, but the key is they are not simply in a science fiction universe–the stories explore science and scientific concepts. And how best to nurture a new generation of scientists, engineers and inventors? Well one way is to excite them about the possibilities, show them ideas of the future to make them consider that they have a stake in making it happen–to give them stories about that future–narratives that can influence their own lives and ambitions.
One of the issues in the last book was that the overall conflict seemed short-lived and readers were left wanting more. Ripple Effect hits the readers with conflict from the very start. The prologue introduces readers to an ongoing subplot involving a nefarious organization called the Alchemists who are out to discredit and destroy scientific devices and also possibly exploit them for themselves. Sid’s own backstory winds up being tied into the confrontation with the Alchemists, creating a much needed dimension in Sid’s family life. The Alchemists appear to be up to their old tricks again . . . though their full agenda is unclear. (I’m hoping the organization proves to be more complex than a simple black and white ani-science league–villains are always more interesting when they have some rationality to their causes.) Overall, there’s a clear effort to give this book more dimension without sacrificing the style of story being told, it’s a stronger book overall and it’s clear the author is finding his stride in the writing of the series.
Part of those 168 pages are actually devoted to a Reader’s Guide section at the back of the book. It provides two pages of discussion questions that would be perfect prompts for using this in a classroom or in a book discussion group. The three pages have tidbits of actual science that are used in the story–these can be researched further by those who’ve had their interest sparked. There’s an additional challenge for readers to imagine an alternate world version of themselves and a number of other reader-related activities. It’s great stuff, especially for the reader who might have more trouble connecting with a book easily and can use some visual and tactile prompts to help make those connections.
I hope kids will pick these up and read them, and be inspired to discover, invent and explore!
Here are a few nonfiction reads to go along with the title:
A Black Hole is Not a Hole by Carolyn Cinami Decristofanom illustrated by Michael W. Carroll (Charlesbridge, 2012) Spiders by Nic Bishop (Scholastic, 2007) Predator by David Burnie (DK Publishing, 2011) Note: A copy of this book was provided by the publisher.(less)