Thursday, May 10, 2012

Eye of the Storm by Kate Messner

Tornadoes can be fascinating... and frightening. Usually, there is an eerie calmness before the sky turns a greenish hue and blackens. A stinging wind stirs the air with dead leaves and dirt before sirens wail. Panicked, you scramble indoors to safety.

Now, close your eyes and imagine a future where tornadoes occur so frequently that you can't even ride a bike outdoors. Or go on a hike. Or feel the wind on your face as you swing. Instead, you live in concrete bunkers or underground where it is safe. This is twelve-year-old Jaden's world, set in the year 2050. Tornadoes have become so severe that the Fujita scale has changed from the top level measurement of an F6 to an F10.

When Jaden goes to live with her dad and step-mom at Placid Meadows, she finds a community where the tornadoes don't touch down. A community where she can be outside without fear. Jaden's dad has created a technology that protects Placid Meadows, but she hasn't seen her dad in four years and is not sure how the technology works. Jaden asks him questions and while he shares information with her, she knows that something isn't quite right. That the information does not reflect what is happening around her. Jaden digs deeper into her questions as she goes to a science camp to learn about meteorology. She makes friends with Risha, Alex, and Tomas and is paired with Alex who is interested in tornado dissipation like her. The two discover some inexplicable things about the nearby tornadoes that touch down and become determined to solve the mystery of Placid Meadows.

Messner does a great job with tension and establishing the characters right away, as well as creating a vortex of themes. When we first meet dad he is in the car with Jaden and they are trying to not get stuck in a tornado. They are racing to a shelter as debris and wind threatens to engulf their car. Jaden's dad isn't frightened. If anything he loves it and appears addicted to severe weather. He tells Jaden not to worry and is oblivious to the fact that she is terrified. The reader quickly learns that dad is single-minded and doesn't respect other people's wishes to not live in an artificial environment like farmers or Aunt Linda. He is bent on building Phase II of Placid Meadows and cannot understand why someone would choose a life that is unprotected from severe weather.

The genre is dystopia but I would also call it a mystery as well. There is plenty of action, character development, and tension. Jaden is trying to reconnect with her father, make new friends, solve a scientific problem, and understand choices people make as to where to live. I like how this well-crafted story has raging tornadoes that seem to mirror the storm that is going on inside of Jaden as she changes throughout the novel. She has to decide between saving other people or going against her dad. She also has to learn to trust and believe in herself. It is a multi-layered story that can generate some good book club discussions.

Some might find the story filled with too much science and technology but I really enjoyed that side and thought it was balanced with the rest of the story. I also thought Messner was creative in showing some devices that are currently used by storm chasers, such as a mobile meso-net unit and her futuristic device called a DataDrone. Other clever word plays are DNA-ture and DataSlate. I like how Messner uses the librarian who believes that old technology does not mean it is useless technology. So often we are racing off to collect the newest technology without thought as to whether or not it is better technology. I also got a kick out of the Risha's binary coded bracelets that spelled out words. That was pretty funny. I wonder if Messner dreamed that up or if she knows someone who has bracelets like that?

There is some romance between Risha and Tomas and Jaden and Alex, but not much happens because they are too busy solving the mystery of Placid Meadows. Teachers could use this book for teaching small moments (pages 53 describes eating something delicious, 55 describes swinging) or the scientific method where students at camp are learning if-then statements and hypothesis (page 38). Our students are crazy about science and this should be very hit with them.

Reading level 4.8

5 out of 5 Smileys

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