Hooray! The sequel to last year’s Cybils finalist Mars Evacuees.
Space Hostages by Sophia McDougall. Published in the U.K. by Egmont, 2015, in the U.S. by Harper, 2016.
Following her return from Mars and the publication of her memoir on the subject, Mars Evacuees, Alice Dare is now considered one of the celebrated “Plucky Kids of Mars.” She’s all set to go on a new space with the other Plucky Kids to celebrate the official opening of the new Morror planet. Kind of accidentally/on purpose, she ends up on the ship without her father. She’s thrilled to see Carl, his younger brother Noel and Thsaa – but her former best friend Josephine isn’t speaking to her anymore, preferring to spend time with her older sister. As an added wrinkle, they’re travelling on the luxury cruiser Helen of Troy, owned and operated by Captain Trommler, the father of Christa Trommler, the bully from the last book. She’s on board, too, and not happy about her portrayal in Alice’s book. Captain Trommler has very creepily programmed the Helen to be in love with him and want to obey him, something that even Goldfish finds suspicious.
Things are going rough in the way that you might expect when getting together a disparate group of people after a while when the ship is boarded by a new alien species, the Krakkiluk, who are 9-ft tall crustaceans with highly decorated shells. They revere the married couple to the point of only being willing to negotiate with married people, and then only as a couple, and do not think that “spawn” are really people. Thus it happens that part of our group finds themselves marooned on a new planet without even having any duct tape! And this planet is home to another species, a brightly-colored fruit bat-like people all too familiar with the Krakkiluk…
As the group is split into two, the story is narrated part of the time by Noel. This makes me want to jump up and down with excitement, not only because Noel is a great character, perceptive and able to notice the humor in these stressful circumstances, but also because this is the first middle grade speculative fiction I’ve ever read with a POV character of Filipino extraction – finally a book in the only genre my son is really interested in that somewhat reflects that side of his heritage! It’s also great to see a kid younger than the other main character take center stage at least part of the time.
There is lots of high-stakes adventure here, along with realistic friendship struggles and looks at imperialism and the rights of species, children, and even artificial intelligences. But with all of that deep thinking and trying to stay alive (even the floating goldfish teacher-robot gets some serious moments) – it also made me laugh out loud frequently, and read many snippets to my family over the breakfast table. These books continue to impress me, and I really hope that there will be more of them.
This would also pair very well thematically with my beloved The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex.