K. A. Applegate moves from her popular Animorphs series into outer space with The Mayflower Project, a sci-fi thriller with world-annihilating excitement. At the heart of this futuristic tale of suspense is an asteroid destined to slam into the earth with such force that it will likely shatter the planet into pieces. With only days until the impact, the United States has rigged up an ancient shuttle with some new, untested hibernation equipment and chosen 80 people who will travel on it to escape Earth's fate. Unfortunately, the nearest planet and star system that might support human life is hundreds of years away. It's a desperate plan, one that won't go off without a hitch or two, but it's also humanity's only hope for survival.
Among those chosen for the shuttle are 14-year-old Jobs Andreesen and his parents, as well as Jobs's daredevil friend Mo' Steel and his parents. Also aboard is the First Son, a troublemaking teenager whose spot was negotiated by his mother, the president of the United States, who chose to remain behind. Then there's an adopted Russian boy with a strange talent, a young girl named 2Face who was once beautiful but now bears the scars of a facial burn, and a little boy stowaway whose presence on the shuttle triggers an early tragedy.
Applegate dedicates most of this first book to the last-minute scramble that occurs in the days before the asteroid's impact and the subsequent snafus that plague the shuttle at the start of its mission. The scenario is a riveting one -- the witnessed destruction of Earth provides some emotional closure for this episode, and the characters should both intrigue and engage adolescent and adult readers alike. For younger readers, parental discretion is advised, as the doomsday scenario and several scenes of violence may prove to be a bit too intense for some. (Beth Amos)