This reminds me of living overseas. So many things go wrong. I just bought a mystery tea and thought it was green tea. No, I can't read Chinese. Nothing like the runs before I run tonight. VISA's get messed up, items get stolen or lost, strange foods make you ill, you have different medical procedures, you face some prejudice, your bad attempts at learning the language are laughed at over and over, and so on. But in the end, it is one grand adventure that gives you plenty of memories and stories to talk about with family and friends. And then there is the joy of learning a new culture and making new friends just like Alice does in this book.
Twelve-year-old Alice Dare has a name adults mispronounce as "Alistair." Earth has been overtaken by aliens called, "Morrors." Humans are attempting to colonize Mars as they are losing the war against the aliens and Alice is on her way there to be trained as a soldier with 300 other children ages 7-18. I wondered if this was going to be an "Ender's Game," but it isn't. More "Lord of the Flies," but I'll get to that. On the Mars flight, Alice makes friends with Josephine, a genius that wants to be a scientist not a soldier. She meets the hyperactive, pilot-prodigy and theatrical teenager, Carl Dalisday, and his younger brother, Noel. Everyone expects Alice to be a great pilot like her mother but she discovers her talents elsewhere. When the adults disappear from the space station, the three hundred children take over the space station with bullies beating up others to force them to do what they want. Alice high-tails it out of there with her group of friends in search of the adults.
Their adventure leads them through treacherous terrain where they discover another alien that threatens not only them, but the Morrors. When they make friends with a teenage Morror, Thsaa, the group learns to bridge differences and get the adults to work together in face of an enemy that will not only annihilate them both, but will destroy Earth. Overcoming their fears and prejudices, Alice's group and Thsaa become friends and help the adults work together. If an enemy is going to take over the planet do you commit genocide and have one species destroy the other or do you try to coexist? Whereas, "Ender's Game," goes the genocide route, this book takes the coexistence route when faced with interstellar war.
Alice's voice comes out strong at first, but then I thought it got lost during the "Lord of the Flies" segment. Josephine wants to leave and Alice wants to organize everyone to work together. Alice was having issues with bullies from the get-go and is presented as a person that likes to stay out of the limelight, so I was surprised she tried to get kids to team up. The author never really goes back to that subplot and it felt unfinished to me. She gives a tiny wrap up but I would have liked a bit more. It doesn't matter overall, but I didn't think it fit in the plot as smoothly as other elements. Once the group takes off from the space station, so does the action and the nonstop problems they need to overcome. They have to use their wits to survive and each has a unique skill that helps them work together. Alice shows her resilience all along.
Take note that there is more swearing in this book than I normally see in middle grade novels. The aliens also speak a gobbledygook language, but its not hard to figure out what they mean. It definitely gives the characters an alien culture and the fact that they can have up to five parents was funny. Josephine and Thsaaa make connections through art that helps them appreciate each others culture. Before that moment they were putting each others cultures down. Thsaaa didn't like the food, planes, weapons and vice versa. Leapfrog through low gravity in this fun read.