Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Early Review - The Only Ones by Aaron Starmer (4/5 stars)

Reading level: Middle Grade
Genre: Science Fiction/Mystery
Size: 336 pages
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers 
Release Date: September 13, 2011
ISBN: 978-0385740432
Stand Alone or Series: Stand Alone
 eGalley from Publisher
Rating: 4/5 stars

I got an advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher.  I loved the synopsis of the book and was excited to read it.  It was an excellent middle grade post-apocalyptic read full of mystery.

Martin Maple lives with his dad on a small island.  Him and his dad work on building a machine when it is not summer; when it is summer they deal with the various tourists that show up.  That is until one day Martin's dad sails away and is never seen again...and the tourists stop coming.  After living a couple of years all by himself on the island Martin decides to go inland where he finds an abandoned earth and the town of  Xibalba.  Xibalba is run by a bunch of pre-teen kids.  All the kids are exceptionally good at something and none of them really miss the rest of humanity.  It will be up to Martin to point them towards a higher cause and to help them discover what really happened on Earth and what if it could be fixed?

This was a wonderful book.  At first you don't even know it is about the world ending as we know it.  Martin is so secluded he doesn't know the difference between humanity being there and not being there.  It's an interesting concept and well done in this book.

The town of Xibalba is also an interesting concept.  The idea of only children (pre-teens) being left to run things isn't a new one.  But the idea that each child left behind is a genius in one particular area is interesting.  Add to this the fact that each of the children is interested in their special area so exclusively that a lack of a world and other humans doesn't affect them all that much and the story is even more interesting.

I loved some of the mystery of the history of Xibalba and how Martin had to hunt deeply to piece together all the little clues that he was finding.  This story is more of a mystery than anything else.  There is some magic and some science fiction, but that takes a back seat to the mystery itself.
The book was very engaging and well written.  The mystery behind what happened to Earth really propels the story forward.

Even though I enjoyed that story a lot, there were a few things that I had some issues with as well.  First of all Martin lived on the island for over a year all by himself?  How did he get food and fresh water?  It was something that was glossed over for Martin, but then when you get to Xibalba this issue is dealt with in detail.  I would have liked at least a passing comment on how Martin survived all that time.  Secondly the characters are never all that engaging; they are okay and some of them are interesting but I never really felt all that involved with them or drawn to them.

The final issue is the ending of the book.  When everything is explained about what happened to Earth and how it will be fixed, well, it was kind of confusing and convoluted.  I kind of understood what happened, but I had some trouble really picturing it and wished that it had been explained with more clarity.

The book ended well and seems very contained.  I would be interested in reading more about Martin, but given the ending I doubt there will be more stories featuring him.

Overall a very good middle grade read.  There is a little magic and a little science fiction here, but at its heart this story is a mystery and a very good one.  The idea of a town run by children geniuses is intriguing and interesting.  The book was generally well-written and engaging.  I had some trouble with the inconsistencies around survival issues and none of the characters really captured my heart, but overall it's a great read.  This would be a wonderful read to introduce kids to the idea of post-apocalyptic fiction in a way that is subtle and not too scary.  Fans of well written mysteries with a little magic and sci-fi should look here. Fans of post-apocalyptic fiction with a more subtle touch to it and a lot of mystery should also give this book a read.

This book goes towards the following reading challenges:

- E-book Reading Challenge

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