On the “small and isolated” Azura space station, 12-year-old Maxion “Max” Belmont, still haunted by his father’s death in The Accident two years ago, wants to follow in his dad’s footsteps as both engineer and musician in order to remain connected. Then Milo Hames arrives at Azura, “the has-been mining hub of the Fifth Star System,” and becomes the new teacher of the station’s seven 12-year-olds. Reluctant teacher Hames, under pressure from a mysterious deadline, coopts Max’s class into helping him repair and crew his spaceship, in order to seek out the reclusive star whales nearby. But in discovering the secret of finding the whales, Max realizes he has another chance to learn more about his father—which brings unwanted attention to his home and could spell disaster for everyone. With this heartfelt debut, Thorne explores lingering grief through Max and his mother, and how that anguish affects relationships with friends and peers. An engaging speculative fiction premise allows Thorne to simultaneously embrace a sense of wonder and discovery, imbuing this poignant story with optimism and healing. Ages 8–13. Agent: Kaitlyn Johnson, Belcastro Agency. (Mar.)
"A futuristic setting, an excitingly illicit field trip, and a set of magnificent, mysterious MacGuffins add up to a rare space adventure."—Booklist
"Entertaining and hopeful."—Kirkus Reviews
"A rollicking middle grade adventure with a subtle message about processing and expressing emotions, and the traps that await those who allow their sadness to masquerade as anger."—Foreword Reviews
"An engaging speculative fiction premise allows Thorne to simultaneously embrace a sense of wonder and discovery, imbuing this poignant story with optimism and healing."—Publishers Weekly
Gr 4–7—Max lives on the Azura space station, where gossip is currency because nothing interesting happens. That is, until a mysterious stranger docks his starship and changes almost everything about Max's world—his classroom, his friends, even his understanding of the place where he lives. Mr. Hames becomes Max's teacher and ends up taking his class on a journey none of them will forget—on a search for Star Whales. Not only will this search bring his classmates closer together but Max will also learn more about his deceased father than he ever thought possible. Thorne crafts a cast of characters who get better as the plot transitions into warp speed; themes of trust and friendship are ones readers will relate to. Characters are not assigned any race or color, with main descriptors being names and the illustrated cover; the main characters (Max, his mother, and Mr. Hames) are most likely white. While Thorne explains some sci-fi lingo, it would be helpful if readers came into Azura with a base knowledge of science fiction terminology. The novel has just enough fantasy mixed in with science fiction to keep readers guessing. For instance, the idea of creatures living in the vacuum of space is solidly sci-fi, but the reason why only certain people can see them is amusingly fantastical. Be warned, there is some violence on Azura, both in the action and alluded to by characters. VERDICT A fun romp through space that will keep readers engaged and eager for other science fiction titles.—Kerri Williams, Center Moriches Free P.L., NY
Following in the footsteps of his asteroid miner father, a boy chases a mysterious galactic species.
On Azura, “a dying space station the universe forgot,” 12-year-old Max spends his days lobbing smoke bombs at teachers with his best friend, India. Their new sub, Mr. Hames, shares an obsession with Max’s late father: giant singing whales who swim in the vacuum of space. Max’s story is as much fantasy as science fiction, featuring both flesh-eating sirens and solar sails. The science parts, though, are fuzzy at best; at one point, Max stands on the floor of a ship before its artificial gravity kicks in, and the menu on this remote space station consists of cupcakes and steak. Despite trappings of futurism, characters and classroom dynamics read as true to those of contemporary Earth: Max worries about getting in trouble as much as he misses his dad, the space station runs on gossip, and Max eventually has to save the star whales from hunter-profiteers. The text can be clunky in its use of adverbs, but it also offers some trenchant aphorisms. For example, “Life’s not about experience. Life’s about possibility.” Even better, as Max’s mother tells him as they grieve together, “Crying is healthy.” Main characters seem to be assumed White; names signal diversity in the supporting cast.
Entertaining and hopeful. (Science fiction. 8-13)