Bad Order, by Barb Bentler Ullman

My first try at writing my thoughts about Bad Order, by Barb Bentler Ullman (Stirling Children's Books, June 2019), went through some rip in the reality of Blogger, and so I'm quickly trying to redo it before the deathless prose of my first try is lost.

(which is appropriate, given what the book is about.  But sigh).

In any event, this is the story of a little boy, Albie, who doesn't speak.  He does, though, communicate telepathically with his loving big sister, Mary, sending her "memes," as she thinks of his messages.  One snowy day Mary, Brit and Albie are out for a walk, when Albie sends a frightening meme--"Bad order." He can't convey anything more specific, but it's clear that he's perceived a wrongness.  Then the kids see a mysterious red mist, that pulls at them.  To their horror, anyone pulled in by the mist becomes distorted, angry, and violent.  Clearly the mist is part of the "bad order" Albie was sensing.

When news of the violence engendered by the mist spreads, the Feds arrive to try to stop it, but the agents are no better at fighting it than anyone else.  Fortunaly three holographic alien constructs, trying (and failing) to pass as human, also arrive, and they help the kids get out of the hands of the Feds via a flying Volkswagon bus.  They also explain that the bad order is much worse than the mist; there's a rip in the interdimensional fabric of the universe.  Albie, who is linked to the creation of that rip, can fix it again...maybe.

It was impossible for me to not think of a Wrinkle In Time.  There's the special little brother and his protective big sister, the three aliens trying to be human, the group of friends trying to save the universe, and there's even Mary and Albie's missing scientist father, whose final experiment went wrong.   But though this similarity was a distraction, it didn't keep me from appreciating Bad Order on its own merits (and this was helped by Mary and Meg being nothing alike).

Partly this was because the group of kids, including Brit's big brother Lars (a helpful, goodhearted teen, who takes the kids seriously, which is pretty rare in middle grade fantasy), are really likeable.  Partly it was because the three alien constructs are really truly funny.  Partly because the threat was explained in almost believable science, and so suspension of disbelief was pretty easy.  But mostly because the red mist was terrifying, transforming ordinary people into monstrous versions of themselves, and the horror the kids felt was really well done.

So if you are in the mood for a horror tinged book that comes to a warm ending after some sci fi high jinx, this might be just the thing for you!

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher.

disclaimer 2:  my first try was better. Sigh again.


  1. Interesting that this could be so much like A Wrinkle in Time and yet so different. Thanks for your review.

  2. I guess it was a bit of an homage to Wrinkle in Time (which I loved). But though some of the framework is similar, the spin is VERY different. Fun project to write. Thanks for your thoughts and commentary. Charlotte, I like your take on the book. (:


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