Contributing Author: Venus Bradley
Release Date: March 17, 2014
Re-posted with Permission from: Children's Atheneum
Image used under Creative commons from Amazon.com
Balancing between a middle grade and a young adult novel, Mars Evacuees is a carefully planned and executed space adventure. In the beginning we are introduced to Alice who lives in a boarding school in England, a school that is now under threat from oncoming ice. Both her parents are deployed and she rarely sees either of them. She deals with feelings of inadequacy next to her "exceptional" mother and worries she will never have a future. Carl and his brother Noel are Filipino-Australian lotto winners who really don't seem like the kinds of kids you would want in a military academy, but war is war and Mars is safe. Noel lovingly calls his brother Kuya, a Filipino term meaning brother. At first Carl is rather off-putting as he is always trying to show off, but as the story progresses you see it for what it really is, a good deal of machismo mixed with fear and loss of control. Josephine (who really should have been the main character) is smart, driven, and a born leader. She is the Sherlock to Alice's Watson. She also happens to be black and for those keeping track, that makes three out of the four main characters, diverse. Thanks to the war with the Morrors, she has a big chip on her shoulder when it comes to aliens.
There were a few moments in the story where I worried about whether this would turn into some Ender's Game and later into Lord of the Flies, but McDougall kept it on track and well-paced. As if there wasn't already four fabulous main characters, there are also two other secondary characters that throw a wrench into all kinds of things. One, a Goldfish robot-teacher who follows them across Mars, is annoyingly chipper and very much would like to teach the children math, even when they are fighting for their lives. The other cannot be mentioned without ruining the story for you. Although it isn't a twist per-se, I think readers should discover them on their own. There are a number of weighty topics dealt with including alien sex, which is why the book is pushing towards YA.
A fun action-packed sci-fi novel that is truly a stand-alone novel that craftily asks what does it mean to be human.