Above World (Above World, #1)
Jenn Reese
Candlewick
2012

It is rare that a science fiction middle grades novel is this appealing to both boys and girls (at least, I’m assuming it’s equally appealing ☺). This book has the rapid fire pace of a summer blockbuster complete with super cool and over the top special effects; throw in just a teeny bit of very well done first love, marry it to a future post-human society in which all main characters have been genetically modified in order to live in hitherto-inhospitable-to-humans-terrain, and give us some heroes with brave and sacrificial natures, and you have a terrific story. To add to that teaser, let me just say there are warrior mermaids, winged warrior women, tech geeks (both male and female), centaurs, a super villain to make all super villains proud, and some serious messing with the gene pool.

Both Redeemed Reader and my friend Brandy at Random Musings of a Bibliophile have given this book thorough reviews, so I won’t belabor their points here. Suffice it to say that RR nods at this book’s hero quest (with with I thoroughly agree), Brandy praises the world building (with which I also agree), and both discuss how well done the romance is ☺.

I’ll throw out some new thoughts that struck me with this unassuming book–unassuming because at first glance, it looks (and reads) like a typical middle grades scifi/dystopian novel that is remarkably clean and fun. What lies beneath the surface, for those readers willing to discuss it, is a remarkable commentary on what makes us human, what it takes for communities to survive and thrive, and what role technology has in our lives.

In Above World, the technology that first helped these hybrid humans survive in their alien environments is now failing–and failing because of the usual super villain’s desire for ultimate power and authoritarian control.  The human ancestors splintered themselves into separate communities (winged people, mermaids, dolphin-like people, centaurs, snake-types, and so forth), and are now fearful of each other and incomplete. While the character types were a bit “done before” (to my jaded grown-up brain; I doubt middle schoolers will have this same issue), the conclusion that all must work together and that people must sacrifice for the good of their friends/families/communities was predictable, and even the super villain’s villainy a bit predictable, still I very much appreciated the theme of humanity needing all its parts, as it were (you’ll have to read the book to get that line!).

Humanity, I believe, is made in the image of God and is complete. When we splinter groups off and use only parts of that image, survival is threatened, true love is threatened, and humanity itself is threatened. It will be very interesting to see how Reese continues this theme through the next book (which there will definitely be–the end of this book is as good a setup to the next as you could wish!).

Recommended for middle school and up!

Cover image from goodreads; book from my local library


Things to Note/Discuss

  • The winged people live in gender-segregated communities. Some interesting food for thought here; does this work well? Is that an ideal? In what ways do men and women complement each other?
  • Aluna and Hoku are the now-familiar shakeup of gender stereotypes (she’s a warrior, he’s the wimpy-at-first-glance tech geek). They meet warrior Dash (male) and fellow tech geek Calli (female), so these types are balanced out. What do you think of the treatment of gender roles in these friends? Is that too fine a point to make? (I appreciate the way Dash seems stronger than Aluna in terms of leadership, and the way Hoku and Aluna are maintaining a best friend status.) Do you have non-romantic friends of the opposite sex? Is that a hard thing to maintain?
  • When is it okay to disobey your parents?
  • What do you think is going to happen??!!
  • When is it okay to “mess” with the human gene pool? Ever? What about the way the Aviar community “screens” its eggs to get the best possible offspring? What about the mandate of the Kampii elders for women to keep having children to offset the population decline? What about the rejection of community members when they don’t look like/act the rest? Where is the line between human and machine?
  • Quotes to ponder/discuss:
  • “Why were wonder and danger always so tightly interwoven?” (p. 59)
  • “History is not a fixed truth. It changes with the speaker, just as no two feathers will ever find the same path in the wind.” (121)

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