Janie and Betsy team up once again to bring you reviews of three recent scientific fiction works! Janie does the first and Betsy the second two. Are they fiction? Sci-fi? Read on to find out!
Itchingham “Itch” Lofte, age 14, has a hobby with unfortunate side effects—not just for himself, but for chums and schoolmates alike. In his neighborhood and along the beaches of Cornwall, England, he collects elements, aiming to one day box every item in the periodic table (which appears on the endpapers). He needs to research their qualities, though– otherwise he might not have left the arsenic in his backpack when his class took a field trip to the greenhouse, where moisture created a poison mist that made everybody sick. That was bad enough, but when a fellow element enthusiast sells him a rock that turns out to have very curious qualities, Itch is catapulted into an international scramble for the rock. Has he, in fact, happened upon a previously-unknown element?
This genre might be called scientific fiction, or perhaps fictional science—real-world, present-day science with a “what if?” attached. Solid nuggets of fact are folded not-too-obtrusively into a standard thriller plot with serviceable if not outstanding characters and more vomiting in a single volume than I’ve ever seen. (Radiation poisoning will do that.) There are some interesting sidelines on the environment, especially nuclear power—more popular in Europe than here. Also, Itch has to do some soul-searching when he doesn’t live up to his own standards: “He had always assumed he was the sort who would own up to parents, teachers, or the police if he had done something wrong . . . but everything now seemed less clear.” There’s some mild language, but Itch’s father displays genuine Christian faith and readers who like facts will love this.
- Worldview/moral value: 4
- Literary value: 3.5
What if the Fountain of Youth really existed? What if it was somehow connected to radioactive water? Could that explain some of the mysterious goings on in the town of Crystal Springs? Ephraim Appledore-Smith and his family move to their ancestral family home in Crystal Springs after his father suffers a debilitating stroke. The home: The Water Castle. And it turns out that Ephraim isn’t the only one in Crystal Springs to have a multi-generational connection to this ancient home. Mallory Green’s family has been intimately connected with the castle-like abode as its caretakers throughout its history. Will Wylie’s family has also been connected, although his family’s relationship with the Appledores is more of a Hatfield and McCoy style.
The three kids end up forming a begrudging research team for a school project. As their research progresses, they make some startling discoveries about the old secrets of the Water Castle, secrets that have long-lived effects. They also form a firm friendship despite their families’ different backgrounds. The Water Castle is part sci-fi, part historical fiction, part adventure novel, and all fun; bonus: it’s well written. This is a great read that also brings up some interesting questions about the effects of scientific research and scientists’ responsibilities with that research. It’s a good jumping off point for discussing friendship in general. Both boys and girls will enjoy this one, and the cast of characters is nicely diverse and well rounded.
- Worldview value: 4 out of 5
- Literary value: 4.5 out of 5
When 12-year-old Cat suffers a concussion and brain damage after falling from her bird watching perch, nothing is quite the same. Her balance is a tad off, her memory a tad off, her concentration…you guessed it…a tad off. So when she and her mom hear about an innovative brain science institution that’s promising full recovery, they are definitely interested. The only problem? When Cat arrives at the specialized institution tucked away in a remote part of the Everglades, she discovers that things aren’t always what they seem. Why, at such a prestigious institution, aren’t there more than a handful of patients? Isn’t it odd that they are all twelve year olds with similar brain damage? Why have some of the patients mysteriously disappeared? What is really going on?
Wake Up Missing is an adrenaline pumping read that just came out this month. A little bit of brain science, a little bit of potential DNA manipulation, a little bit about the history of some very famous scientists, and a lot of action make this book a quick and exciting read. Guys and girls both will enjoy the mixed cast of characters and the small subplots going on in the background. Anytime a book brings up such murky waters as DNA manipulation, there is much to discuss. This is not a “deep” novel, but there are great issues to pick apart. In this book, it is clear that the way each person was originally created is the way he or she should stay–even if a brain injury has complicated that original design (although Messner doesn’t phrase it quite that way, the point is there).
- Worldview value: 4 out of 5
- Literature value: 4 out of 5