Life on Mars
By Jennifer Brown
Expected publication August 5, 2014 by Bloomsbury Childrens USA
Outer space is in Arty's blood - after all, everyone in his family is named for a star. He's determined to be the first person to discover life on Mars, so he's on his roof every night, trying to signal the Martians. When his parents tell him they have to move, Arty is pretty sure his dream his over. That is, until he discovers the astronaut living next door.
I have read a couple of Jennifer Brown's young adult novels and enjoyed the realistic way they've portrayed teens and families, so I was definitely interested in seeing how she did with middle-grade. Also, I was in the mood for something realistic - fantasy may be my first love, but it's nice to get a break from it every once in a while.
So how did I fare? Brown really has a knack for voices - Arty is a fantastic character with a unique voice about who I really enjoyed reading. He's really just a typical kid, but he's written very believably - I felt his emotions right along with him. From the unfairness of being told of the move to the changes his friendships are undergoing to his terror that the new neighbor might be a brain-eating zombie, Arty was definitely an endearing character. Once again, Brown shines when it comes to depicting realistic and heartfelt familial relationships - I really felt that I got to know every member of Arty's family and how they related to each other seemed very true to life. I also liked the exploration of friendship with Arty and his two best friends - one boy and one girl - and the changes those relationships are experiencing as the three grow up.
But the heart of this book and probably my favorite thing is the relationship that grows between Arty and his new neighbor (who, spoiler alert, is not a brain-eating zombie). Maybe I am a sucker but inter-generational relationships always get to me and this was no exception. Cash is, at first, a stereotypical grouchy old man, but through Arty, we discover that there is, in fact, much more to him. To me, it never felt hokey that they had space as a common denominator - sure, it's a big coincidence that an astronaut might move in next door to a kid determined to discover life on Mars, but it just worked for this story. And, of course, the relationship is antagonistic at first and develops into something more meaningful than perhaps either of them realize, but, once again, it just worked here.
Additionally, I really liked that there is enough information about space to capture anyone's interest but the story is never overwhelmed with the facts. I like that Brown provides a guide for further space exploration (SEE WHAT I DID THERE?) at the end, and I can see many kids wanting to learn more upon finishing this book. Overall, I really enjoyed this book and will be happy to recommend it.
Thanks to the publisher for an advance reader's copy.