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Last Middle Grade Monday I mentioned a book called Found by Margaret Peterson Haddix. I’ve been on the lookout for a good Middle Grade science fiction book. There really don’t seem to be many around. Is it because the elements of science fiction are harder for kids at that age to wrap their heads around?
I decided to give Haddix’s award-winning Missing series a go.
For anyone confused about middle grade fiction, check these classifications out:
School Library Journal recommends it for grades 4-8
It won the “Sunshine State Young Readers Award” for grades 3-5
Barnes and Noble says it’s for ages 12 +
Simon and Schuster (the publisher) says it’s for ages 8-12
Personally, I agree with Barnes and Noble.
An unidentified airplane appears out of nowhere. When the aircraft is boarded, its only occupants are babies; once they are removed, the pilotless plane vanishes. Jonah and Chip, now teenagers, discover that they were among the “airborne orphans,” who seem to be somehow linked with missing children from history. Rather than forgetting the past, the two boys decide to venture into it, risking their survival to right the wrongs of time. Crisp time-travel adventure.
There are many things to like about this book, and I liked it enough to want to see what happens in the next book in the series. The set up is intriguing (a disappearing plane with nothing on board but 36 babies?). The mystery was mysterious enough to keep me guessing. The “twist” actually blind-sided me, which is rare in a “middle grade” (or even a YA) novel. It’s not exactly clear who the good guys and bad guys are, and even so, when you find out, there’s a lot of grey area because of their motivations.
Things are not black and white in this book, which is great for someone like me, but challenging for younger readers.
The “fight” sequences weren’t particularly dazzling, but the action and suspense kept the plot moving. And, for those worried about violence in children’s books, there are tazers and stun guns and danger in this, but nothing bloody happens. It’s pretty clean in that respect.
As for the time travel element, which is always tricky, I thought Maddix did a good job of setting up the “rules” around this for her story.
There were only a few things that nagged at me while reading this book. One is that I actually think it should have been written for a slightly older audience than it is intended. The three main characters are the protagonist Jonah (13), his friend Chip (13), and Jonah’s little sister Katherine (12). First, the kids just acted older than they are, especially Katherine. I can stand a bit of precociousness in young characters, but she was mature beyond her years, especially her dialogue. I honestly kept forgetting that she was in supposed to be in 6th grade.
In addition, there’s this small subplot that Chip might have a crush on Katherine, and vice verse. I know I had crushes when I was that age, but it’s discussed in a way that makes it sound like they might act on this crush and are left alone in several situations. It just struck me as odd. Most likely because when I grew up we had Junior High School (7th and 8th grade separated from both Elementary and High School), and no 7th grader would ever have said they had a crush on a 12 year old.
As I said, I’m intrigued enough to keep reading. And if you’ve been searching for some MG/YA science fiction, I recommend you give this one a try. It’s a pretty quick read even at 320 pages.