A short, sharp beginning to a trilogy offering more adventure than romance.


From the Running Saga series , Vol. 1

In Vaca’s (The Surgers!, 2013, etc.) YA sci-fi novel, a teenage girl rescues an alien who falls to Earth.

Sixteen-year-old Farah lives with her dad in a 300-acre village in “the bowl”—an unremitting expanse of post-apocalyptic desert that’s plagued by violent storms. It’s also home to a savage group of survivors known as the “undergrounders.” Farah loves salvaging old compact discs, and when she’s not on duty in the night-watch tower, she spends time with her boyfriend, 18-year-old Alex, or her best friend, Lois, and Lois’ little brother, Digs. Overall, Farah’s life isn’t too bad, but when she witnesses something strange in the night sky—a lightninglike spark and a purple glow—her young life is thrown abruptly into turmoil. She’s assigned to a patrol to investigate, and she soon finds herself down in a crater, protecting a transparent-skinned alien from the undergrounders and from Alex’s sadistic uncle Lark. The alien, whom Farah names “Rubik,” has lost his memory, but he appears to somehow have a connection to Earth’s distant past. He and Farah develop a growing affinity for each other as the story goes on. Vaca writes from a first-person, present-tense perspective from both Farah’s and Rubik’s viewpoints, which sometimes overlap. The latter is the less convincing of the two; although the alien’s perspective helpfully gives readers an outside impression of Farah, he quickly loses what could have been an intriguing aura of inscrutability. His amnesiac musings, meanwhile, are only skimmable, at best. Farah, however, is a likable protagonist who pushes the narrative forward in both thought and deed. Although it takes about five minichapters to get going, the story moves along nicely once it does. Vaca’s straightforward prose makes good use of dialogue, endowing minor characters with distinct personalities. Lark is an uncomplicated antagonist, but other players are very much painted in shades of gray. By the time Farah and Rubik’s journey takes them to the “junkyarders”—orphans whose situation is a disquieting homage to Lord of the Flies—readers will be hooked.

A short, sharp beginning to a trilogy offering more adventure than romance.

Pub Date: July 30, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4912-0457-3

Page Count: 382

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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In this riveting futuristic novel, Spaz, a teenage boy with epilepsy, makes a dangerous journey in the company of an old man and a young boy. The old man, Ryter, one of the few people remaining who can read and write, has dedicated his life to recording stories. Ryter feels a kinship with Spaz, who unlike his contemporaries has a strong memory; because of his epilepsy, Spaz cannot use the mind probes that deliver entertainment straight to the brain and rot it in the process. Nearly everyone around him uses probes to escape their life of ruin and poverty, the result of an earthquake that devastated the world decades earlier. Only the “proovs,” genetically improved people, have grass, trees, and blue skies in their aptly named Eden, inaccessible to the “normals” in the Urb. When Spaz sets out to reach his dying younger sister, he and his companions must cross three treacherous zones ruled by powerful bosses. Moving from one peril to the next, they survive only with help from a proov woman. Enriched by Ryter’s allusions to nearly lost literature and full of intriguing, invented slang, the skillful writing paints two pictures of what the world could look like in the future—the burned-out Urb and the pristine Eden—then shows the limits and strengths of each. Philbrick, author of Freak the Mighty (1993) has again created a compelling set of characters that engage the reader with their courage and kindness in a painful world that offers hope, if no happy endings. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-439-08758-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Blue Sky/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2000

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An artfully crafted tale with mesmerizing details and a subtle exploration of free will and good versus evil.


A fan of magic and her reluctant companion embark on an adventure when the mysterious Blue Man charges them with a mission.

Little Katherine contemplates what exists behind the scrim of the sky, and she gets her answer after she meets a boy named Charlie, who literally runs into her upon fleeing a blue man and a talking salamander he encounters in the nearby forest. The man is non-threatening, and asks the two to help him recover some lost items, to which Katherine heartily agrees. He doesn’t provide much information, however, so once she and Charlie enter this enchanted universe, they must take it upon themselves to figure out what the Blue Man has lost and how to go about helping him find it. With the help of guides like snarky, enigmatic Gerald and good-natured Frank, the children travel through very deep puddles to different realms behind the clouds, learning about the Blue Man’s nemesis, Grey Lady, who may have snatched his magical dragon stones. Schilling’s well drawn, vibrant world elevates his story above the standard adventure quest. His lively, amusing dialogue complements a fantastical world where fish flit through the air like bees (and may accidentally transport you elsewhere), manta rays make shy cabbies, crushed flowers pop back to life and magic permeates everything. While adults will find the narrative captivating, this book is tailor-made for storytime read-alouds.

An artfully crafted tale with mesmerizing details and a subtle exploration of free will and good versus evil.

Pub Date: July 15, 2005

ISBN: 0-595-36189-7

Page Count: -

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 23, 2010

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