Two children find friendship against a backdrop of apocalypse.
Ever since Jameson O’Malley’s father left for a mission to Mars on the Christopher Columbus, their only contact is through Jameson’s Interplanetary Communication Console, a homemade audio-video transmitter. Earth is now dangerously overheated, the atmosphere destroyed due to an asteroid that’s knocked the planet’s orbit off-kilter. A successful Mars mission is humanity’s last chance. When friendless Jameson meets his new next-door neighbor, the prickly Astra Primm, he is determined to somehow forge a friendship, and the two find solace together after he learns she lost her astronaut mother on a recent Mars mission. Jameson’s mother and Astra’s father also begin to form a friendship that Jameson suspects is growing too close. When the JICC breaks down, Jameson and Astra undertake a secret mission of their own to find a much-needed replacement part. A sudden chill from Astra leads him to believe she knows a secret that everyone, including the school counselor, is keeping from Jameson. Van Dolzer uses her apocalyptic setting to highlight this story of grief, creating believable, likable child characters. Unfortunately, she undermines Jameson’s intelligence by driving the plot with an open secret only he is ignorant of. Jameson is white and Astra black, and though her initial hostility plays into the “angry black girl” stereotype (and, egregiously, her flared nostrils are compared to lima beans), she develops into a well-realized, complex character.
Missteps don’t altogether take away from this thoughtful novel. (Science fiction. 10-12)