Tashima’s debut is the first in a YA fantasy series about three human travelers in an alternate universe called Spectraland.
Sixteen-year-old Joel Suzuki isn’t doing too well: He’s bullied at school, he doesn’t have the courage to ask out the girl of his dreams, his family is getting evicted from their run-down apartment, and through it all, he also has to deal with having Asperger’s syndrome. But he knows that once he becomes a rock star all his problems will be solved. Imagine his surprise, then, when he’s approached by none other than Marshall Byle—lead singer of Joel’s favorite band, Biledriver, and his personal hero. Marshall promises to fulfill all his rock-star ambitions if Joel will accompany him to Spectraland, an island in a parallel universe filled with colorful particles of energy called Aura. Joel learns that he, along with Marshall and teenager Felicity Smith, are able to manipulate the Aura with the help of a guitarlike instrument called a wavebow. Joel and Felicity’s dreams of rock superstardom are put on hold, however, when they learn of the re-emergence of Chief Fourfoot, a warlord long thought dead. The three humans must pool their powers to prevent him from taking over all of Spectraland. Tashima has developed a vivid world where the heroes fall somewhere on the autism spectrum—in fact, it becomes a key advantage, not an obstacle. After an opening hindered by overabundant exposition, Tashima’s pacing is quick and suspenseful. Readers may struggle with the prose, though; for example, until he gains more confidence in Spectraland, Joel includes “um” in the bulk of his statements. The clear, dramatic imagery of Spectraland is dimmed by a preponderance of two-word designations: The alien creatures are named “Greenseed,” “Suntooth” and “Raintree,” animals are “slimebacks,” “lightsnakes” and “scaletops,” and the characters travel to places such as “Nightshore,” “Crownrock” and “Headsmouth.” The issue of food in Spectraland is conveniently solved, perhaps a bit too easily, with fruits called “lifepods,” one of which can sustain a person all day. However, some YA readers will likely see through the ending’s heavily foreshadowed twist and be more affected by the novel’s likable characters and laudable purpose.
Maybe too formulaic for older readers, but inspiring for the younger set and a kindred voice for those with autism spectrum disorders.