Twin boys, Starn and Esper, live in Orchard Territory, a grim place where most animals, insects, and plants have died, suffocated under ash from a catastrophic series of volcanic eruptions.
The white boys’ mother and sister have died of a new illness, and their father has become one of the workers that painstakingly pollinate trees by hand. The new world is run by the crude, small-minded Sagittars, everything strictly controlled and enforced with harsh punishment. On a dare, Starn opens their sister’s sealed room and finds a book handwritten by their great-aunt telling of gold on one of the islands all citizens are forbidden to visit. Starn’s obsession with flying spurs him to design and build a glider in secret so that he and his brother can capture the treasure and return to liberate their father from his relentless work. After some close calls of discovery, the boys set off on their adventure. Mills perfectly contrasts the two halves of the story, using a vocabulary unique to Orchard to describe that world and completely new ways for the boys to describe the islands’ vivid, unfamiliar flora. Heavy concerns—bad government, environmental challenges—are compassionately woven into a story with Mills’ poetic lyricism showing through. Also of note is Lauren O’Neill’s gorgeous cover illustration.
The twins’ quick-paced, action-packed journey will sweep readers right along with them. (Science fiction. 9-13)