There are only a few more days until January 1, when the Cybils finalists will be announced. I’m trying very hard to share reviews of as many of the wonderful books I’ve read for them as I can before them. Here are two very different stories of life after disaster on earth – one literary and set in space, one action-oriented, and set on an Earth entirely covered by oceans.
The Last Cuentista
by Donna Barba Higuera
Levine Querido, 2021
Read from library copy.
In the not-so-distant future, Earth is about to be hit and destroyed by Halley’s Comet. Petra Peña, her younger brother Javier, and scientist parents, are one of the few families selected to be transported on giant spaceships first built as luxury cruisers to a potentially habitable planet. Her botanist mother and geologist father have useful skills to bring to the new world. Petra is heartbroken to be separated from her Abuelita, who told her so many beautiful cuentos (stories), and terrified that her partial blindness will be discovered. There’s also a good bit of anxiety from everyone about the whole plan of being put into suspension for a few centuries, being cared for by a team of dedicated volunteers who will never actually see the planet they’re helping people get to.
Somehow, though, Petra doesn’t fall asleep, but is aware of stories from all cultures being read to her, some recorded and some by her caretaker. When she’s officially awakened, she can tell that the ship has been taken over by a group calling themselves the Collective, a group she remembers from before which wanted humanity to start over with no memory of their own past for a completely fresh start. They have tried and failed to wipe her brain clear.
But Petra believes deeply in the power of stories, and that humanity can’t improve without knowing where they came from. She also believes that the other children now being woken in her pod deserve to know where they came from as well. Her new mission is to teach them their past, foil the Collective’s plan, and find a safe home for them. Sadly, since the Collective was waking people in batches and discarding them if their brain wipes didn’t work, she knows that she will never see her parents again.
This was beautiful and difficult, with lots of thinky thoughts about stories, history and humanity, and the loss of many, many people. There is certainly action as well, as Petra and her companions try to escape and then also survive on a strange planet. Many short cuentos are woven through the narrative, along with Petra’s memories of her old life on Earth. It won’t be for every reader, but those who appreciate a reflective dystopian story will love it.
The Monster Missions
by Laura Martin.
Read from library copy.
In the not-so-distant future, Earth’s water levels have risen so high that there is no longer land at all. Berkley and her best friend Garth have grown up on board a ship, and have worked as scavengers diving for abandoned but still usable things since they were both 11. On one of these trips, Berkley accidentally awakens a giant sea monster. With some quick reactions, she and Garth are able to stay alive and head it away from the ship – but as these sea monsters are supposed to be kept secret on the rare occasions that they’re found, and as the ship is still damaged, they are exiled from their home.
Fortunately for them, instead of being sent to a prison work ship, they are taken on as students aboard the submarine Britannica. There, they will help that ship’s dual missions of studying the sea monsters and defending residential ships from them.
This book is mostly lots of adventure, including many sea monsters and also some pirates. The deep thinking is mostly over with the premise, though Berkley needs to learn to recognize when her best friend is depressed. There are some issues with the details of the story, such as divers being able to see long distances deep under the ocean, and Berkley and Garth on board the Britannica being taught immediately about obscure sea monsters, but not about the emergency protocols. Still, the premise is unique, and for readers who want a futuristic adventure with lots of monster fun – both chasing and being chased – The Monster Missions delivers by the bucketful.