Publisher: Chicken House
Release Date: March 25, 2014
When the aliens arrived, two decades back, they stopped the earth on its axis and destroyed the moon. Humanity calls them Visitors, but it is clear that they are anything but friendly. Megan has only ever known this version of Earth with its perpetual daylight and harsh realities. With her mother dead and father lost in the mysterious Zone, she has grown used to taking care of herself. However, when some Visitors arrive wearing the skins and likenesses of an infamous gang, Megan along with her horse Cisco and friend Luis, head into the Zone to find her father. The Zone is a place where science and physics hold little meaning, a point that is driven home when they run into a floating city and meet up with Kelly, a girl who had only now appeared after disappearing twenty years ago. Megan, driven by some instinctual understanding of the Zone, must lead the trio deep into the heart of the Zone in order to find her father, but the chances of them making it out alive are almost zero.
From the beginning, I had a difficult time placing the time period and geography of this book. The characters act and talk like Texan cowpokes from the eighteenth century, but with the mention (although no evidence) of electronics, I was highly skeptical of the setting. I admit that I am not a Texan, but it very much felt like an amalgamation of every bad Texan stereotype I have ever heard. The geography was confusing in regards to the Zone. I desperately wanted some sort of map. More than that, I wanted to understand how this world, this new American, truly functions. Why are these people living like frontier pilgrims if they still have things like electricity and running water? Obviously, if electronics don't work in the Zone, then a tracker would own a horse, but if you were an everyday citizen, why not own a car?
Perhaps the most interesting character in this story for me was that of Kelly. Rough and tumble, not afraid of anything, Kelly is found floating in a city that disappeared twenty years before with no memory of the time in-between. All the people she knows and loves are gone, probably dead. Her desperation for answers, the mystery of her lost decades, and eventual revelations made her my favorite character in the book. Megan just felt a little too one-note, with such a fixed mission that she became not only predictable but kind of boring. A huge plus, there is only the vaguest semblance of a love story. Downside, that tiny bit was completely unnecessary and kind of out of the blue. Is it really necessary to have romance in every young adult book? As a writer, I sadly already know the answer to that.
I have always said that a book is about a journey. You can have an incredible ending, but if the journey to the end is plodding, cliche, or full of tropes, that journey is quickly mired down with problems. This novel began with a lot of great questions that demanded answers: Why did the aliens come? What do they want? Why are they dragging Earth and its Sun through the universe? Where are they going? How is that even possible? What happened to all the missing people? How were they being kept on ice for so long? Why did Kelly's town just reappear suddenly after all this time? What exactly is this alien technology? Some of these questions were answered, most not so much. Despite there being a muddled middle, it would have been worth it had most of those questions been answered, but they weren't, which means that this book didn't work for me. Sci-fi is great because it asks questions, but you have to actually answer them.