The Darkness Outside Us by Eliot Schrefer

The Darkness Outside Us, by Eliot Schrefer. Katherine Tegen Books, HarperCollins, 2021. 9780062888280

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5

Format: Hardcover

Genre: Science fiction

What did you like about the book?  Far in the future, Ambrose wakes up alone in the Fédération spaceship Endeavor. He’s groggy, but the ship’s AI (using his mother’s voice) reminds him that they are bound for Saturn’s moon, Titan. The mission? To rescue his sister Minerva, who was stranded there during a space colonization attempt. Oh, and there’s someone else on board, another 17-year-old astronaut named Kodiak, from the rival nation of Dimokratía. But mysterious incongruities hint that someone is lying (shades of HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey). Schrefer successfully combines several genres in this outing. Those lured in by the SF parameters will enjoy the gritty mechanics and heart pounding action of space travel. There’s also a lot of futuristic concepts to think about, including the morality of cloning and an Earth under siege from climate change and geopolitics. I loved that Schrefer embraces the tedium and artificiality of space travel, rather than resolving hardships with Star Trek-style inventions like replicators and transporters. Those drawn to a queer love story will enjoy the boom/bust cycles of Ambrose and Kodiak’s romance, as they seesaw between tenderness and combustibility. Ambrose describes his skin as molten bronze and Kodiak’s as olive, and the gorgeous cover art with two smoking hot guys reinforces his account. 

Anything you didn’t like about it? I loved the slow reveal of the central mystery of the story, which unfolds in classic SF style. Teen readers who haven’t read more sophisticated works in this genre may feel a bit at sea at first. Encourage them to stick it out.

To whom would you recommend this book?  Any teen looking for complex and thoughtful SF that rises above space opera, Star Wars, and The Hunger Games would enjoy this book. It’s so rare to find a one volume SF story, especially one with male protagonists! Fans of Adam Silvera’s books would be a natural audience. The physical nature of the boys’ relationship is explored, but not lingered over, so I would say grades 8 and up.

Who should buy this book? High school and public libraries

Where would you shelve it? YA fiction, although this would be a great recommendation for adult readers as well. 

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: July 25, 2021

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