Hypothesis: If a 12-year-old with panic disorder gets stranded outside the colony during a planetwide emergency, he’ll need all his smarts and grit to survive.
Michael Prasad lives an ordinary life inside a biodome on a future terraformed Mars. Despite his math and science abilities, Michael has failed his suit certification test due to a panic attack and hasn’t been allowed out on the surface since. When his best friend, Lilith, shows him a secret airlock, Michael takes the chance to prove himself. Together, they steal a rover and drive out to surprise Michael’s dad at the magnetic field station. But when a solar storm wrecks the artificial magnetic field that shields the planet, they lose all satellite navigation and radio and eventually crash their rover. The friends must escape the deadly solar radiation on foot, navigating harsh terrain, mechanical disasters, and a worsening storm with dwindling supplies. Swiedler’s debut is a clever and exciting read that casts a key female character as an intrepid explorer and a supportive friend. Disappointingly, however, when it comes to space science, Lilith is an ignorant foil to the lone boy genius, who’s emotionally oblivious and thinks girls deliberately act confusing. Michael is biracial, with a South Asian father and white mother; other characters are implied white.
Engaging but androcentric. (author’s note) (Science fiction. 8-12)