When my niece was reading middle grade books, she introduced me to D. J. MacHale's Pendragon series, which follows the adventures of fourteen-year-old Bobby Pendragon as he and his friends fight the evil Saint Dane in this world and other dimensions in an effort to save humankind from total destruction. My niece loved the books and couldn't wait to talk about them.
Now that she's in college (yikes!), I have to discover middle grade books all on my own. Recently I read the first two books in MacHale's newest trilogy, Sylo and Storm, and am happy to report that he hasn't lost his touch with writing compelling action-adventure stories. Here are my thoughts in a bullet review.
- What's the trilogy about? Fourteen-year-old Tucker Pierce lives on an island off the coast of Maine. Tucker, who was born off-island, feels at home in the small community and, unlike his friends, is not counting the days until he can leave. But when mysterious deaths, military personnel, and strange lights in the sky disrupt the status quo, Tucker is forced to take stock of himself, his family, and his country, especially when the island is cut off from the rest of the world. Mustering up courage and relying on teamwork, Tucker and four friends attempt a daring escape to the mainland. What they find there will change them forever.
- Genre, audience, similarities to other books. Did you like the Tomorrow series by John Marsden? You can think of the Sylo Chronicles as being in the same vein but geared to a slightly younger audience. Tucker is not Ellie, but he and his friends keep a cool head and manage to find a way to stay alive, even as others die and they find themselves separated (for various reasons) from their parents. The trilogy is not dystopian; it's alternate history. The kids learn that the U.S. government has high-tech weapons and vehicles and some scary drugs, but the books are not sci-fi. Instead, Sylo and Storm offer an action-packed look at a different kind of America.
- There's a lot to like. Besides the general adventure and the inventive technology in the books, it was MacHale's characters that drew me in. The teens have distinct personalities with unique upbringings and family situations. They don't always like each other, don't always make the right decisions, and are not invincible. It's a dangerous world out there, and people (teens and adults) can get hurt and can die. I love that there are several factions and groups, and it's not at all clear which one is made up of the good guys. Maybe there aren't any good guys. It's hard to tell, and that is one of the major problems Tucker and his friends must solve.
- Things to know. Sylo and Storm both earned starred reviews from Kirkus and were recommended by EW, Publisher's Weekly, and the School Library Journal. Although Tucker is at the center of the books (and tells the story), there are tough, smart girls in the group, and the adventure should appeal to both boys and girls. The audience is clearly middle grade readers, but the themes and situations are sophisticated and muli-layered.
- General recommendation. In the Sylo Chronicles, D. J. MacHale has created an exciting, sometimes-scary, heart-pumping story with complex, believable characters; surprising twists; and plenty of puzzles. Like Tucker Pierce and his friends, you'll find it difficult to decide whom to trust, and you'll second-guess yourself with each new bit of knowledge. I can't wait to see how Tucker's story is going to end.
- The audiobooks. I listened to the unabridged audiobook editions of Sylo (10 hr, 42 min) and Storm (12 hr, 12 min), both published by Penguin Audio and read by Andrew Bates. Bates does a great job amping up the tension and conveying the teens' full range of emotions. His reading has a touch of earnestness to it that took a little getting used to, but soon I found it difficult to stop listening and went right from book one directly to book two, something I don't often do. But seriously, I couldn't wait to find out what happened next.
Published by Penguin Group USA / Razorbill, 2013 & 2014
ISBN-13:9781595146656 & 9781595146670
Source: Bought & review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)