Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5
Genre: Science fiction
What did you like about the book? Post-apocalyptic comedy for middle grades is a tough niche to fill, but this book is a knockout. Sometime in the future, Lan, his sister Ila, and Mom and Dad are among the very few thousand humans who have made it off Earth and onto Mars before nuclear Armageddon. Huddled together, the refugees are running out of food, clothes and water. Deliverance appears in the form of the Planet Choom, far away, but willing to accept survivors. Lan’s family heads off, along with a handful of others. But, by the time they reach Choom, the dominant Zhuri species (who resemble giant mosquitos) have had a change of heart and philosophy. Maybe the war-like humans pose too big a risk. Finally the Zhuri agree to allow one family unit (Lan’s) to settle in and attend school. While Lan is super focused on being liked, sister Ila mopes (an American Idol champion, her career was derailed by the evacuation). Nothing Lan does seems to be working, despite his can-do attitude and fondness for slapstick.
Things really take off when Lan befriends representatives of the two other refugee species on Choom: Exger, a small green werewolf, Krik who likes his food alive and kicking and Marf, a blue-white Orono, who is absolutely brilliant, despite her resemblance to a giant marshmallow. Together, they unpack the Zhuri psyche, find allies and hatch a Rube Goldberg plan to save the humans. There’s lots of action and jokes, but also a serious examination of human nature. Are we a dangerous species? Is it possible to reject violence and selfishness and strive for something different? This book is sort of like Ursula Le Guin with training wheels.
Anything you didn’t like about it? No.
To whom would you recommend this book? This would be a good choice for a kid who wants science fiction but shies away from long series or overly dark, complex plots. That being said, it’s still sophisticated enough to hold a good reader’s attention and could lead to an interesting discussion. Did someone say book groups? Reading circles? Yep, that’s what I’m thinking.
Who should buy this book? Elementary, middle and public libraries.
Where would you shelve it? Fiction
Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? Yes
Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA
Date of review: June 3, 2020