Aaron, a white boy in Bixie, Montana, must save his mom and friend from “nothingness” by defeating an alien in an interdimensional game.
The premise of this middle-grade sci-fi novel is captivating. Unfortunately, the emotional stakes remain low throughout the story, which unfolds as a series of tasks or puzzles Aaron needs to complete. The narrative voice is muddy; attempts at generating tension come across as a smoke screen that confuses readers. The dialogue is stiff, but there isn’t much of it; Aaron is on his hero’s quest alone. The use of the third person distances readers from Aaron’s emotions, and without trustworthy companions, there is little opportunity for character development. The author hints at an interesting cosmology, but that too is poorly realized. Instead of learning about the different dimensions and planets through exploration, Aaron gets long bouts of exposition from minor characters along the way. The seemingly Herculean tasks require neither bravery nor wit—a Google search helps Aaron solve one of the puzzles. Aaron doesn’t seem to grow from his experience. He is simply relieved when he wins and his life, apparently, goes back to normal.
With more revision, this book could have been the start of a Jumanji-like adventure series for preteen space lovers. Alas, it falls short of its potential. (Science fiction. 10-13)