Narrated with entertainingly British self deprecation and sang froid by 12 year old Alice Dare, this intelligent and thought-provoking tween novel uses a scifi setting to mirror contemporary concerns about differences.
When the Morrors invaded Earth, they blocked out the sun to make the planet acceptably cold for themselves. Now with a new ice age threatening, and constant battles overhead, Alice and 300 other kids are evacuated to Mars, where terraforming has allowed human stations to be set up.
However, when all the adults disappear from their base, the kids quickly form into warring factions (a la Lord of the Flies), and Alice and her friends, Filipino-Australian brothers Carl and Noel, and Anglo African Josephine, are on the outs. So, along with Goldfish, a robot teacher, they decide to journey across unknown terrain to find another human base – a journey appealingly reminiscent of Andy Weir’s The Martian (Crown, 2014), as the kids have to use their ingenuity to MacGyver their way over obstacles and through alien attacks.
Much of life on Mars and on the gradually cooling Earth will be completely recognizable to 2015 kids: the main characters deal with difficulties in convincingly distinctive ways; relationships between families and peers haven’t changed; school, whether a traditional girls boarding school on Earth or with the hilariously self-important Goldfish on Mars will feel utterly familiar.
Similarly, the central dilemma of Mars Evacuees is a futuristic twist on a common current theme: how to react to the ‘other’: The invasion of Earth by the Morrors has caused Earth’s people to unite to fight back, but it is the kids’ empathy that shows a more positive way forward.
Though the book is a little slow to get going, its winning combination of attractive and diverse characters, cinematic world building, and smart scifi, will have broad appeal to middle schoolers, and with the sequel already published in the UK and getting great reviews, this is definitely a series to get started on now.