Starman Jones

Heinlein, R. (1953) Starman Jones. New York, NY: Scribner’s


Max Jones dreams of traveling the stars as an astrographer, like his late uncle, but finds his way blocked by selfish guardians and self-serving guilds.  Just when it seems that his situation cannot get any more dire, he sets out on a journey that takes him not only across his native countryside, but through outer space and onto other worlds.


I really wanted to like this book, and I wouldn’t say that it was a bad book, precisely, but unfortunately something about it simply rubbed me the wrong way.  Despite the story being so dated, it excelled the most during the parts where Max got into the science of it all, and especially how connected he felt to his chosen profession.  Outside of that, however, Max came across and bland, overly naive, and weirdly reluctant to take charge of his life for someone who begins the book with a dramatic show of independence.  This lack of concern for his own welfare and dreams in turn makes every achievement he gains anti-climactic instead of triumphant.


That said, it’s an entertaining adventure story and I would recommend it to many tweens, I just wouldn’t suggest it to most tweens.  Best for ages 10 to 16.


Tomorrow, When the War Began

Marsden, J.  (1995) Tomorrow, When the War Began. San Diego, CA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt


When Ellie Linton and her friends head out to the bush for a week, their plan is to have some fun and explore – and to get away from school and parents.  Their goal is not to escape an invading army.


But after their outing, Ellie and company arrive back at their homes to find them abandoned, their parents and siblings missing, and even their pets and livestock dead or dying.  With a great deal of bravery and maturity in the face of a crisis – not to mention no small amount of recklessness – the gang returns to their hidden campsite and uses it as a base from which to scout out the town, where most everyone is being detained, and the movements of their new enemy.


This books raises many more questions than it answers, and while some of them are likely addressed in later books in the series, many of them are not meant to be answered ever.  A great deal of this book’s strength is in it’s ambiguity; Marsden uses lack of exactness in the same way that more traditional science fiction author’s use unfamiliar and nonexistent settings and peoples, as a way to force readers to step outside their assumptions and look at the world form a different perspective.


While the story is about an armed invasion, the violence depicted is personal and more than once perpetrated not by troops but by the teens themselves in defense of their homeland.  Overall, the story deals with war and it’s consequences maturely and respectfully without being preachy or overwhelming.  Best for ages 12 to 18.

Awards and Reviews: ALA Best Books for Young Adults (1996)

Life As We Knew It

Pfeffer, S. (2006) Life As We Knew It. San Diego, CA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt




Miranda Evans tries her best to avoid looking at the moon. It’s too strong a reminder of what has changed, and not for the better.  When a massive meteor hits the moon, this sixteen year old girl’s world is turned upside down.  She’s still alive, though – so far – which makes her of the lucky ones.


Pfeffer’s portrayal of an apocalyptic earth is often engaging and extremely realistic.  However, unfortunately for readers, starvation is not the most exciting crisis to read about, no matter how likely an event.  This is not a terribly hopeful book, but it is thought provoking and worth reading.


While the seriousness of the topic suggests this title as being for teens and up, I would actually say it works best as a tween novel.  I rather think most older teens would find Miranda’s lack of curiosity about, for example, the political state of the world, to be rather odd and juvenile.  (Although I may be projecting there.)  Older children and very new teens, however, are more likely to find the grim possibilities presented in the book to be a new and mature take on a popular sub-genre.  Best for 10 to 14.

Awards and Reviews:

ALA Best Books for Young Adults (2007)

ALA Teens Top Ten (2007)

Love, Aubrey

LaFleur, S. (2009) Love, Aubrey. New York, NY: Random House, Inc.

Aubrey’s first letter isn’t addressed to her late father.  It isn’t meant for Savannah, her younger sister, who died in the same car crash as their father.  Neither is it for her mother, who left eleven year old Aubrey alone in the house the four of them used to share in order to tend to her own grief.  When Aubrey first begins to write, she does so in order to apologize to Jilly, Savannah’s imaginary friend, because Aubrey’s maternal grandmother made her move all the way to Vermont to live with her.  Aubrey doesn’t want Jilly to think that she has been left behind in Virginia on purpose.


If there is one thing tweens love, it’s melodrama.  (Even the boys, although they hate to admit it.)  This book is chock full of it – I’m pretty sure I spent the entire book in tears – but it is not cheap melodrama; the story is also incredibly sincere and touching.  It’s also very much about growing up and learning not only that bad things happen, but also that adults are flawed and fragile themselves.  Throughout the story, Aubrey slowly comes to grips with her own fears and sorrow, and while there is no happy ending to stories like these, by the end of the book Aubrey is capable of making mature decisions about her own life and what she needs from the adults she relies on.  Which is as close to closure as one can get after such a tragedy.


Like Aubrey herself, the target audience for this book fits right smack in the middle of the tween age range.  Younger children may have a harder time dealing with the overwhelming grief of losing loved ones.  Older teens and adults will be sucked right in along with the tweens, but may be embarrassed to admit it.  Best for 9-13.

Awards and Reviews: Booklist Starred Review (2009)

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