Monday, October 10, 2022

MMGM- Space Ships Crashing EVERYWHERE!

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 
Schaefer, Laura. A Long Way From Home
October 4th 2022 by Carolrhoda Books 
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Abby is not thrilled when her mother gets a job with Space Now in Florida. She's worried enough about everything in her life, especially climate change and the general state of the world, and she's not looking forward to starting a new school and having to figure out a new community, even though she is a little curious about meeting her mother's aunt Nora who lives in the area and was also a brilliant scientist. Abby's been working on her anxiety, and has some coping skills that she uses, but sometimes it's not enough. She's especially not thrilled about having a Where Everyone Belongs mentor, Juliana. She'd rather just fly under the radar at school, and doom scroll once she gets home. A couple of things stop her from doing this; she meets two boys at a local fast food restaurant who seem very out of place. Adam and Bix tell her that they are a long way from home and looking for Adam's twin sister Vanessa (or V, as she likes to be called), and that they need a place to stay while they are waiting for her. Luckily, Abby's father has an enclosed boat docked nearby, and he's too busy fixing up their house to spend much time at it. The boys' story gets more and more interesting; they claim to be from 250 years in the future! After experiencin their world through a piece of their technology, Abby decides that the future looks much better than the present, and she's ready to leave everything behind to join them once they find V. She also gets drawn in to Juliana's mother's dog business, and finds that she likes hanging out with Juliana and her family. She also approaches Nora, and the older woman grudgingly visits with her, even though she is not on good terms with Abby's mother. As the Space Now Athena Heavy project approaches its deadline, and Abby's mother is involved in getting ready for its launch, Abby steps out of her own comfort zone to help Adam and Bix. It doesn't hurt that she really likes Adam and is looking forward to her new life in the 23rd century. She keeps getting weird messages on the refurbished smart phone that her father has gotten her, and these start to have some meaning when Adam and Bix's quest isn't going well. The Space Now launch runs into trouble, and Abby's mom and her aunt have to come to an understanding when they all need to help Adam and Bix. Will Abby get to pursue her dream of living in a utopian future, or will she find that Florida in the present day is where she needs to be? 
Strengths: Many of my students will see themselves in Abby, since everyone seems to be anxious about everything these days. I absolutely loved Nora's explanation of anxiety-- it's something that's part of the human package, like opposable thumbs. We all have to deal with it from time to time. Abby does grow during the book; her life doesn't become perfect, but she gains some perspective, and that is such a crucial realization for middle grade readers. Very well done. I was sucked right in to Adam and Bix's story and was completely happy to suspend any disbelief. Perhaps the fact that Abby's mother and great aunt were involved in the space program made the science fiction element seem more realistic, but this struck me as exactly the kind of science fiction book that readers who aren't exactly fans of the genre will be more likely to pick up, while readers who are sure that they could travel to the future will be equally enthralled! This was a good spin on a moving tale as well; Abby is able to make friends and settle in to her new environment even though it was very different. I was also a big fan of the message that when things look bleak, sometimes it helps to do one small thing, and I loved the depiction of women in a demanding field of science, especially contrasting the aunt and mother's experiences a number of years apart. There's even a nicely romantic scene at the end that rounds things out nicely. Looking forward to handing this to students. 
Weaknesses: The cover could be better, although it did make me think about Danziger's 1986 This Place Has No Atmosphere!
What I really think: Think of this as a magical realism type of science fiction; based enough in the real world to make sense to readers who have trouble getting their minds around elaborate world building. Also a great choice for readers who want to investigate current ecological topics in books like Dimopoulos' Turn the Tide, Guillory's Nowhere Better Than Here, Cartaya's The Last Beekeeper or Rosenberg's One Small Hop

Fleming, Candace. Crash From Outer Space: Unraveling the Mystery of Flying Saucers, Alien Beings, and Roswell
October 4th 2022 by Scholastic Focus
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

We all know about Roswell... or so we think. What really happened back in the 1940s, and how did this purported crash help give rise to the alien sightings of the 1950s and the interest in all manner of paranormal creatures in the 1970s and 80s? Fleming, whose Curse of the Mummy is the best overview of Howard Carter's archaeological dig at Tutankhamen's tomb I've read, does an excellent job of laying out all of the various events related to this one small crash, and the long, long trail of influence that these events, and their interpretations had!

After reading this, I got into a discussion with a friend who loves to read books that debunk various sketchy beliefs, and Fleming managed to hit every topic that my friend brought up! I loved that there were plenty of primary source photographs, documents, and drawings that really brought the scope of the beliefs in extraterrestrials into clear focus. Readers who think that there really were aliens that crashed at Roswell need this book... mainly because it neatly debunks just about everything without making the reader seem silly for believing in the first place. 

The formatting is perfect, and while the book is a little on the long side, it's a good choice to have in a middle school library for readers who want to take a deep dive into the history of aliens in US culture in the last 80 years. Unfortunately, I don't believe in anything (even though I grew up in the age of Bigfoot sightings, concerns over the Bermuda Triangle, and Leonard Nimoy's riveting television show "In Search Of"!), so I always dismiss things like aliens, ghosts, and cursed places without giving them too much thought. But my friend with whom I had the conversation about this book? Totally ready to pick this one up to see if there is any new information. 

Brooks, Nick. Nothing Interesting Ever Happens to Ethan Fairmont
October 4th 2022 by Union Square Kids
E ARC provided By Edelweiss Plus

Ethan lives in Ferrous City, in a close knit neighborhood. His father is looking for work, his mother is a nurse, and their small house is crowded with four boys. Ethan loves to tinker with electronics, so takes refuge in the attic, where he has his guinea pig, Nugget, as well. He also goes to an abandoned factory in town where people discard many electronics, and where he has a small lab of his own where he can work on inventions like his Handy-Bot. He's supposed to be helping an elderly neighbor, and also making friends with a new boy his age, but instead spends his time at the factory or trolling Gadget Beach, another unofficial dump site, for more materials for his inventions. The new boy, Juan Carlos, follows him to the factory, and the two are surprised by a big silver "pinball" that seems to have crashed there. There's even an alien creature who picks up Ethan's interjection of disbelief, "cheese and crackers", whom they then call "Cheese". Cheese obviously needs help, and a lot of food, so Ethan and Juan Carlos try to figure out what's wrong with his spaceship to see if Ethan can fix it. Unfortunately, they must also deal with local bully, RJ, his sister Diamond, and Kareem, Ethan's erstwhile best friend, who give them a hard time. Cheese's arrival has alerted local authorities as well, who run a check point in town. Ethan's parents have just given him and his brothers "the talk" about how to interact with policemen, but when authorities arrest his father, it's hard for Ethan to stay quiet. Kareem tries to help, and Ethan learns about some things that went on in his life that made him create distance between him and Ethan. Will the three boys be able to work together to keep Cheese safe, fix his ship, reconnect him with his family, and keep the situation in Ferrous City from becoming volatile? 
Strengths: I enjoyed the fact that Ethan wasn't into sports as much as his brothers were, but his parents didn't make him feel bad about it, except when he took his father's hat for a guinea pig carrier without asking! He's able to create a lot of inventions, and his brothers just rib him lightly. RJ is a bit of a threat, but not for too long. It's good to see him make a new friend in Juan Carlos, and it was interesting to see that both boys are given a lot of freedom to run around their neighborhood, as long as they are home by the time the streetlights come on. Of course, working in the reality of being a young Black man out and about was timely and important, and done in a way that made sense within the story. There's still a lot of adventures to be had, and Cheese, despite his lack of communication, is a sympathetic life form the boys want to help. There are complications, of course, and the Handy-Bot sees some hard use, but things turn out well at the end. A fun, upbeat adventure with lots  of geeky gadgets!
Weaknesses: I could have used a little more information about Ferrous City, especially about The Factory and Gadget Beach, both of which seemed environmentally dangerous. Also, I felt like I was missing something at the end when The Factory is turned into a community center. 
What I really think: I'll definitely purchase this one, since it will appeal to young readers because of the adventure and general goofiness, and it will appeal to adults who like books to have serious messages. Had a little of the feel of Stewart's The Wild Huntsboys, mainly because of the ensemble cast. 

1 comment:

  1. Wow. Three books I need to put on my TBR list. I am going to make sure I get a copy of Candace Fleming's book. She is such a great writer. I love all her books. Thanks for your very thorough reviews.