Middle grade sci-fi? Recommended by Sarah Prineas (author of the lovely Winterling)? I’m there. I happened to do a quick search of my local library catalog, and found an ebook copy. Done? Done. From reading the synopsis alone, I thought Jenn Reese’s Above World had the potential to be unique, thrilling, and fresh. I wasn’t far off the mark.
Thirteen-year-old Aluna has lived her entire life under the ocean with the Coral Kampii in the City of Shifting Tides. But after centuries spent hidden from the Above World, her colony’s survival is in doubt. The Kampii’s breathing necklaces are failing, but the elders are unwilling to venture above water to seek answers. Only headstrong Aluna and her friend Hoku are stubborn and bold enough to face the terrors of land to search for way to save their people.
But can Aluna’s warrior spirit and Hoku’s tech-savvy keep them safe? Set in a world where overcrowding has led humans to adapt—growing tails to live under the ocean or wings to live on mountains—here is a ride through a future where greed and cruelty have gone unchecked, but the loyalty of friends remains true.
A fairly constant theme in dystopian fiction (and most adventure lit, as well) is that of the young person who knows ‘best.’ What I mean is, the protagonists see the injustice in a system and are willing to put everything at stake to make it right – or at least, different. With dystopian lit, this is necessary because the government or society IS corrupt (and harmful).
In Jenn Reese’s Above World, members of Aluna’s colony are dying, and no one seems to be doing anything concrete to solve the lethal problem. Aluna, incensed and horrified, is willing to risk her safety to find the answers, and her best friend Hoku comes along because, well, he’s her friend. What follows is a non-stop adventure through a world unimaginably altered by technology and human imagination.
The narration in Above World was split between Aluna and Hoku, and sounded most accurate in Aluna’s ‘voice,’ partially because she possessed a forceful, assured point-of-view. However, at the end of the book Hoku’s perspective emerged more often. One of the weaknesses of an otherwise engaging story was his recurring fixation on kissing – it did not ring true in the midst of life-or-death situations. Also: Hoku is twelve. But in the grand scheme of things, that’s a minor quibble.
One of the best things about the story was its focus on the friendships made and sustained in the course of crazy adventures. I had to include the bit of text (from page 56) below, because it made me laugh aloud, and it was just so typical!
“Aluna said nothing. For a minute, she just stared at him. He recognized that look: the furrow of her brow, the slight closing of her right eye, and the almost imperceptible twitching of her lips. Aluna was thinking, and there wasn’t a more dangerous activity in all the world.”
Above World is the first in a series, and I'm sure the adventures of Aluna and company will only get more interesting as the story progresses. It promises to be an exciting (and somewhat perilous) journey.
Recommended for: fans of science fiction and fantasy (whatever their age), and those who know that friends are the best companions on an adventure – especially one to save the world.