Post-apocalyptic disaster in middle grade science fiction almost invariably involves scavenging kids. Which is fine and makes sense; kids are good scavengers and it comes naturally to them. And happily there are enough twists available so that such books can be fresh and fun, and the scavenging just as interesting as ever!
The Fog Diver, by Joel Ross (HarperCollins, May 2015). In this particular version of the future, a fog of nanobots, poisonous to people, but nothing else, has covered the surface of the earth. A few enclaves of people live above the fog, on mountaintops (if wealthy or powerful) or floating rafts (if they are not). 13 year old Chess and his friends fall into the latter category, making a hardscrabble living through scavenging. Though the fog is poisonous, it's not immediately toxic, so the surface of the earth can be visited briefly by those desperate enough to dive through the fog (although it's eventually fatal). And so Chess, who has a strange affinity with the fog, is lowered down by his friends from their ramshackle hired salvage vessel, and he explores...and if he finds food or useful scraps from the past, they will eat.
Hazel, Bea, and Swedish never know what Chess will bring back to them, but all four are hoping he finds something really good. Their beloved surrogate mother has fallen ill, and in the fabled city of Port Oro is there hope for a cure for her. But even though Chess makes the find of a lifetime, it might not be enough. Because Chess is being hunted by one of the ruling dictators, who will stop at nothing to get Chess' preternatural fog diving abilities under his control.
Persued by this enemy, and running afoul of piratical mercenaries, Chess and his friends desperately struggle to escape.
What makes this one such a solid read is not just the fantastical world of the fog and those who fly above it and dive down into it; it is the loyalty and bonds of friendship that hold the kids together. Each kid has his or her own strengths, and each one has an important part to play in the survival of the group. Middle school kids, who treasure deep friendships and who are working to figure out their own identities, will find this part of the book very appealing. It helps that these are a really good group of kids, the sort one would like to be part of! Many readers will also like the space pirates, the treasure hunting below the fog, and the dangers of escaping from the bad guys--it's solid adventure, with plenty of near disaster. Distorted pop culture references to the past add humor (many aphorisms and advertising slogans we take for granted haven't aged well in this future world!)
I myself would have liked just a tad more peaceful treasure hunting by Chess alone in the fog, and a bit less exciting action, but that's just me.
In short, it's a very good first "survival in a world almost ruined" science fiction adventure for kids 9 and up, and I'm looking forward to the sequel!
disclaimer: review copy received from the author.