This story is “all boy.” The author does a great job of getting into the mind of a 12-year-old boy, and everything in the first part of the story feels absolutely genuine. The boys are dirty, rough, rude, and smelly. They worry about getting into trouble but can’t seem to stay out of it. There are power plays and friendship tensions. Theodore has an awkward crush on a girl. Etc.
Between the parental abuse and the bullies Theodore is surrounded by, you just want to hug this poor kid. But how Theodore eventually stands up for himself is heartwarming and inspiring, and the author has some good commentary on abuse as Theodore at last finds safety and love with his grandparents.
Later, at 15 years old, the characters grow nicely and feel like typical teenagers. And it’s here, really, that the adventure begins. There’s a very distinct point when the whole book shifts – from something like “Sandlot” to more like “Ender’s Game” – and from then on the science fiction elements dominate the story. It becomes like every 15-year-old kid’s dream come true, complete with an alien adventure, weapons training, a mission to save worlds, and a team of friends battling by your side. It’s really a lot of fun, and the author offers an interesting multiverse with unique alien species, spaceships, and planets. It should be clear to any adult that something else is going on with Zane, the supposed good guy, and how these teens slowly come to understand the bigger picture is pretty believable.
The framing of the story, I think, works great. All of the above is told as a story within a story as Theodore recounts this tale from a future prison cell. At times the back-and-forth can be a little jarring, but the “now” timeline hints at bigger mysteries and troubles to come and keeps you interested to see how things progress.
I’ve read in some other reviews that the writing needed a lot of cleaning up, and I think I must have read an updated, edited version. Aside from an occasional goof, it was pretty typo-free. There were a few sentences or paragraphs that just didn’t make a lot of sense, but it wasn’t enough to hang me up. (There was one point where they were fighting in a kitchen and suddenly someone jumped off a bed…) The biggest problem I had with this book was that some of the character motivations, actions, and reactions seemed a little easy just for the sake of pushing the story along, but for kids I imagine this moves at just the right speed and a lot of these things wouldn’t be called into question.
Overall, I’d recommend this as an entertaining, interesting, YA book.
See it on Amazon!