See up there, next to my orange snail, where it says I review science fiction and fantasy books? Um. I just did some math. Turns out I've reviewed or talked about fantasy 184 times, sci fi only 23. It's true that I gravitate more toward fantasy, but my personal bias is not entirely to blame. There is much less science fiction for children and teens then there is fantasy.
But today I have a science fiction book for middle grade kids! And it isn't a Jimmy Neutron type boy genius concocting things in his lab story, nor is it an aliens among us story. It is a real, honest-to-goodness, edge-of-your seat straight-up space adventure.
It is Mike Stellar: Nerves of Steel, by K.A. Holt (Random House, 2009, middle grade, 262pp).
Young Mike has been having a rough time of it ever since the last mission that set off to terraform Mars was lost in space. A lot of people think his parents were to blame. Then suddenly he is whisked by his folks off on mission number 2. But strange things are happening on board their space craft, and soon Mike isn't sure if even he can still believe his parents are the good guys.
Mike puts his intelligence and technological savvy to work sneaking information from under the noses of the grownups, with the help of a very odd, but even more knowledgeable, girl named Larc. But meanwhile, the bad guys, whoever they are, are getting closer, and there's only way out.
"I just thought we would hide in here- not fly away!" I looked crazily around the pod. Through the porthole next to me, I saw stars streaking by.
Larc giggled and said, "Belt." Her belt slid off and she hovered in front of me. With her hair whipping around and her billowing jumpsuit, she looked like a ghost or a fairy or something.
"An escape pod is for escaping, Mike. It's not called a hiding pod." (pp 195-196)
Mike Stellar is a fun space adventure, narrated by a smart kid who's confused and annoyed (with good reason), but likable. There's cool technology that doesn't distract from the story. A mystery to solve. (although, characteristically, I was too busy reading to stop and ask if I knew what was going on). A wacky girl, who's even smarter than the boy.
This probably isn't a book that will appeal to grown-up fans of science-fiction, for whom the plot and its concomitant technology might seem simplistic. But, since they aren't the target audience, so what. I bet Mike Stellar is a huge hit among ten and eleven year olds, and, given how few recent middle grade books there are about kids in space,* I bet it will be fresh and fun for them as all get out.
And then they can go forward and read Asimov.
*please, leave recommendations of such books in the comments! I want to know if I am totally wrong! (although I wouldn't, of course, mind being told just how right I am).
Mike Stellar: Nerves of Steel is a nominee for the Cybils Awards in the Middle Grade Science Fiction and Fantasy category, for which I am a panelist. The copy I was reviewed was provided by the publisher.