Lynn: BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! ALERT! ALERT! Terrific middle-grade book with huge boy appeal incoming! Prepare robotic arm to secure capture and arrival! OK, that introduction is more than a little cheesy but I really don’t want you to miss Space Case (2014). This is a highly sought-after, high-appeal book that also happens to be wonderfully written.
Welcome to Moon Base Alpha! Twelve-year-old Dashiell Gibson’s family is part of a history-making scientific effort: mankind’s first colony in space. The world’s best scientists were recruited to bring their families for a three-year stay. Dashiell knows just how important and remarkable this opportunity is. He will also tell you about the annoying downsides, like the food and the claustrophobic sleeping compartments and the truly disgusting toilets and the fact that, for a kid, it gets a little bit boring. The boring part ends when Dashiell floats headlong into a mystery. One of the base’s best-loved scientists inexplicably walks out the airlock in an unsecured suit. The base commander thinks Dr. Holtz committed suicide but Dashiell thinks it is murder. The night before the event, Dashiell was sitting miserably in a bathroom stall after an ill-advised meal of Chicken Parmesan when he overheard Dr. Holtz on his phone, excitedly telling someone about a world-changing discovery he planned to announce in the morning. Dashiell knows Dr. Holtz wasn’t depressed, but he can’t make anyone believe him until he’s joined by an unlikely pair of co-investigators. Is there a murderer loose on the Moon Base Alpha? Will he or she strike again?
Dashiell’s breezy, confiding voice is a winner and Gibbs keeps all the balls skillfully in play. This engaging book succeeds both as an intriguing sf and a very well done mystery. The big revelation at the end would make Agatha Christie proud and there are some really cool action scenes, too. You can’t beat a robotic arm as a weapon! And then there are all the descriptions of those space toilets—you can’t miss with middle school boys on that!
Cindy: The whole time I was reading Space Case I couldn’t help hearing the opening line from M. T. Anderson’s YA moon novel Feed in my head:
“We went to the moon to have fun,
but the moon turned out to totally suck.”
Dashiell may be bored by the reality of living at Moon Base Alpha, but middle-school boys will be enchanted by his entertaining descriptions. Me, I was also remembering a book from my early librarian years, Paula Danziger’s story about a teen, Aurora, forced to live in a moon colony with her parents. Any readers remember This Place Has No Atmosphere (1986)? I’m booktalking mystery and horror to sixth-graders this week and I’m wishing I had a lot more copies of Space Camp. Fortunately, I’ll have time to get that book order placed before the science fiction genre booktalks are on the calendar. The great cover art is going to sell the book as well. It’s the perfect image to convey the crime/sci-fi/humor blend in this middle school story. “Danger, Will Robinson, danger!” Don’t miss your seat on this reading rocket of fun.