Space Case, by Stuart Gibbs (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, Sept. 2014)
The Official Residents' Guide to Moon Base Alpha reassures the "lunernauts" who will make it their temporary home that everything will be just peachy keen and full of "pleasant surprises!" It says nothing about murder.....
12-year old Dash (short for Dashiell) was unenthusiastic from the get-go about his parents and his little sister Violet leaving Hawaii for the moon. And after a few months there, he knew for a fact that life in Moon Base Alpha sucked, for many, many reasons, not least of them being the packaged "chicken parmegiana" that drove him from sleeping space (cramped and uncomfortable) to the communal toilets (hideous torture devices) on night. And it was there, in the small hours of the morning, that Dash was an unwilling eavesdropper on the excited conversation Dr. Holtz was having about a big announcement he was going to make the next morning.
Only next morning, Dr. Holtz was dead--a visit outside the base to the surface of the moon suffocated him.
Dash can't shake his feeling that Dr. Holtz was murdered. But none of the grown-ups are taking him seriously...and the base commander becomes downright hostile. But the next shipment of lunernauts brings a woman who shares Dash's suspicions, and who encourages him to keep investigating, and it also brings a plucky, smart girl sidekick who figures out what Dash is up to.
Slowly it becomes clear that Dr. Holtz was not university loved, as more and more of the secrets kept by the moon base residents are revealed (and they are a fine, varied cast of characters--not many of them, because there aren't many people up there, but enough to spread suspicion around nicely!). But still there's doubt--Dr. Holtz wasn't necessarily sane. Was his death really murder, and if so, whodunnit?
And, then, as the tension mounts-- will Dash and his plucky girl sidekick be victims themselves????
It is a really satisfying realistic sci-fi story, with excellent lunar base world-building, and a pretty good mystery too, and I can't think of a better book to offer young speculative fiction readers (10 and 11 year olds) looking to venture into those sub-genres.
There are funny bits--chapters begin with excerpts from the promotional guide book, and I loved little sister Violet's obsession with her Squirrel Force show. There were scary bits--the final showdown was full of sci-fi tension. I am not qualified to be a critic of mysteries, because of not reading them Critically, but this one pleased me (except I was left confused about the logistics of it).
I am a little uncertain about the twist at the very end...it abruptly made a book that was pretty much 100% probable a lot less believable, but on the other hand, it opened the door to vast new realms of sci-fi possibility....
So yes, my 11 year old and I both read it avidly, and both enjoyed it lots. We agreed that Dash was not the most interesting character we'd ever read (though a perfectly relatable, believable 12 year old boy), but the story carried him (and us) along so nicely that that didn't bother us. That being said, we liked Kira, the sidekick, better, and would have liked her to get a bit more page time.
The cover might make it a bit of a hard sell- it doesn't look that fun (unless you look at it closely enough to see all the space-suited people are holding signs identifying them as suspects!). But "kid figuring out a murder on the moon" is a pretty good hook....and once they start, they'll keep reading.
(I was happy to be able to count this as one for my list of multicultural spec fic-- for kid's in Dash's generation, it's uncommon to have friends who are pure white. Dash's own mom is black, and his dad's white, and the rest of the bunch on the moon, with the exception of a Scandinavian family who are uber-rich, uber-obnoxious, and fish belly pale (Dash's words), are pretty much a mix. And Dash's mom is a lunar geologist--so yay for a future in which black women scientist moms are perfectly normal.)
(side note re: Squirrel Force-- squirrels are showing up everywhere in my reading. It is sinister. For instance, in El Deafo, little rabbit girl Cece is given a book called "The Meanest Squirrel Ever." There are at least two obvious squirrel books on the Elementary/Middle Grade Spec. Fic. list of Cybils books, and probably more in hiding....is this the "Flora and Ulysses" effect at work???? or simply that October was Squirrel Awarness Month, not to be confused with Squirrel Appreciation Day, which comes later, in January. What ever the reason, I am aware...very, nervously, aware...)