Because the Internet is Awesome™ (more on this later) I have had a chance to read an Advanced Reader Copy of the forthcoming MG sci-fi novel The Boy at the End of the World by Greg van Eekhout.
The middle-grade age range has very little science fiction published in it, I get frustrated at the lack of space and robots and stories about the future that are particularly geared toward middle-grade readers, as I happen to have two sharing my home at the moment. I also am weary of the very dark and depressing dystopias that occupy the YA space and pass for science fiction. While I loved Hunger Games as much as the next person, it's not something I'm comfortable reading with my soon-to-be-fifth and second graders. Too much.
So I'm here to tell you that while Boy (I am also growing weary of typing the whole title out, so you're just going to have to cope with a shorthand...) is a future dystopia, it's also a really interesting and active book, great for middle-grade readers, a special appeal to boys.
This is the story of Fisher, who wakes up in an "ark" that he has only cursory knowledge of (he has cursory knowledge of many things.) Click the robot assists him in escaping, as the ark is under attack. Fisher is a boy, and knows some things but not others. He's been pre-loaded with the Fisher profile, so his specialized knowledge runs deep in the fishing arena, but not much else. But he's a plucky kid, very determined, and he has a large vocabulary of curse words (referenced obliquely like that, in a way that's very funny) that he can use when things get tough. He sets off to get away from the ark, since it's under attack and all. Click the robot follows, trying to keep Fisher safe as he has been programmed to do. Before long they find a mastadon (a small mammoth/elephant like thing) that Fisher nicknames Protein. Protein accompanies them on their travels, never saying a word but having an impact on the action here and there. Fisher figures if things get desperate enough, he can always kill Protein and eat him (hence the nickname.)
We follow Fisher as he and his ragtag band walk across a post-apocalyptic United States seeking other surviving humans living in other arks. Along the way they encounter all kinds of challenges and Fisher has to use not just the knowledge and information he was "pre-loaded" with (according to Click the robot) but also the new skills he develops during the journey. He befriends a sentient prairie dog, Zapper, who is critical to the final conflict.
I'll leave the details of the plot off to avoid spoilers, but a few points about the book for potential readers. This is a great book for boys, but would be appealing to girls as well. It's aimed at middle-grade readers. My fourth grader read it in almost one sitting (before bed one night and after waking the next morning.) It clocks in at 210 pages, thus does not feel particularly intimidating for those reluctant readers. The action keeps the story moving, another plus for boy and/or reluctant readers.
As an adult, I appreciated the way the story provided all kinds of instruction about environment, survival skills, etc. as incidental to the storyline. Fisher tries to set traps to catch small game, for instance, and has to figure out how to travel (by foot for the most part, traversing huge swaths of the former US in the process.) Some kids might realize they're being taught in the course of reading, but the instruction is well buried in the narrative, I think it works well for the story. The story ends tidily (some sadness) - but there is a final chapter that easily leaves the door open for a sequel, which I hope Greg van Eekhout pursues!
In short, I highly recommend this middle grade science fiction novel, particularly for boys. The Boy at the End of the World by Greg van Eekhout, due out June 21st!
P.S. The Internet is Awesome™ because I got this ARC by being friends with another author whose work I love, Sarah Prineas, author of the Magic Thief book series. We've never met in person, love that internet thing and all my imaginary friends therein.