Review: The Strangers by Margaret Petersen Haddix

2 stars (It was okay).

Chess, Emma, and Finn come home from school one day to find their mother very upset about an article about three missing children from Arizona who share their names. They don’t think much of it until she also disappears. Then they try to solve both mysteries and end up falling into a rather science fiction story.

I couldn’t help but compare this book to my own middle grade story about parallel worlds and kids who get mixed up in them. Except . . . dare I say I think my book is better?

I never really connected with the characters, especially the youngest, Finn. I didn’t think the clues lead logically from one to another, and I felt like the kids took way too long to figure out what was going on.

You can bet I’m using this as a comp title, though.

Review: These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Megan Spooner

5 stars (It was amazing!)

This was book 2 on my read-YA-science-fiction-with-male-protagonists list, and it did not disappoint. It did remind me in feel of the Illuminae Files series, so if you like that, maybe check this out. And if you don’t like that, then maybe this won’t be for you either.

Is this book going to change the world? Absolutely not. Was the romance swoony and believable? Oh yes. I loved watching the two leads gradually increasing in respect for one another, which slowly developed into love. The plot also kept surprising me, and a series of twists blew my mind.

It’s fun science fiction and fun romance. The YA voice is just right. I’m not sure it would be the sort of thing my 13 year old son would love at this moment in his life, but maybe it would be. Who knows?

There is a pretty tame sex scene, so I guess parents should know about that.

Review: Nyxia by Scott Reintgen

2 stars (It was okay).

So, about six months ago, I came across a list of great science fiction YA published recently. I think it was bemoaning the lack of marketing publishing companies are putting into their sf lists. I love both science fiction and YA, and so do my two oldest sons (ages 13 and 11), so I checked out the list.

And while I did come away with some things to add to my to-read list, I also noticed something that left me a bit unsettled. ALL of the books on the list had female protagonists.

Okay, so maybe it’s just an attempt to catch up after decades of a heavily male-dominated genre. And boys can read about girls–my boys do all the time!

But.

We talk about representation. And the truth is, my boys seem to enjoy books written in the last 20 years or so more than they enjoy older books. And if none of the books in their preferred genre have boys in the starring role, then . . . ahem . . . I think we may have a representation problem.

It feels weird to say it.

Surely, I thought, there must be some YA science fiction with male leads. So I did some Googling and found a list of 100 of the best science fiction YA published in the last 10 years. Perfect!

I read down the list. And you know what? Out of those 100 books, a grand total of 15 had at least one male protagonist (some had dual boy/girl leads). That means over 85 had girls as main characters, and fewer than 15 had only boys.

I decided then to read those 15 books (no promises I won’t abandon any of them part way through, since I am definitely not one to feel compelled to finish a book I’m not enjoying). Nyxia was the first.

And I have to say that while this was only a 2 out of 5 stars *for me,* it’s a book I’m wholeheartedly recommending to people. Its voice and characters are great. The plot clips along nicely. It’s got mystery and plenty of cool science fiction elements.

I almost feel guilty writing down what my biggest problem with it was: It was just so, so alpha male that I didn’t relate with it much at all. *laughs* Lots of high-stakes competition, fight scenes, problems with authority, anger management issues . . . you name it.

I did like it, but sometimes it got to be too much for me. And that’s okay! I am not this book’s target audience!

If you or someone you love might be the book’s target audience, give this one a try. I bet you’ll love it.

Review: Space Case by Stuart Gibbs

3 stars (I liked it). My middle grade son rates it 4 stars.

Space Case cover (link to Goodreads)

If you like mystery, space, sarcastic middle grade voices, fun, or any combination of the above, chances are, you’ll enjoy this book. It’s a quick read with lots of humor and the perfect situation to allow a kid to need to solve the mystery.

It wasn’t the best mystery I ever read, but I was never bored, and it made a day of picking hundreds of apples from my apple tree more pleasant (I had the audiobook running while I was way up in the tree, fighting the wind threatening to knock me out of said tree).

There are sequels, which my son read as well and liked. I love the merger of science fiction and mystery, something I feel there isn’t enough of. I may be biased, though, as my current WIP is a sf mystery (though for YA).

Review: The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau

4 stars (I really liked it)

The City of Ember cover (link to Goodreads)

Isn’t that cover gorgeous? A librarian recommended this one to my son, and it was a great recommendation. He ended up reading all four books in the series!

I read only this one, but I liked it a lot. It’s about a city built underground–but the power keeps going out. Something is wrong in Ember, and if someone doesn’t figure out what it is soon, the whole population (and possibly the whole human race) may die.

The two viewpoint characters are perfect middle grade characters. They’re young but brave, resourceful, empathetic, and full of heart. They have families they care about and hopes and dreams, and when they get swept up in the mystery, the plot clips right along. I predicted the end, but I imagine every reader will, and that’s part of the point. WE know what Ember’s secret is, but we’re dying to know how its citizens will figure it out and what they’ll do when they do.

The movie is not good. I don’t recommend it. I think my son liked this book better than the others in the series, FWIW.