In “The Planet Thieves,” Dan Krokos manages to create a middle grade science fiction novel that will be difficult for anyone — adult or middle grade reader — to put down. Although the protagonist and his friends are thirteen years old, the situations and the action are thrilling enough for older readers.
Mason Stark is a student at the Academy for Earth Space Command (ESC) and he and his fellow cadets were on a routine expedition until his unit is attacked by the Tremist, the aliens who have been targeting Earth for years. In fact, Mason’s parents had been killed in a Tremist onslaught.
In this particular attack, the adults on the ship get taken hostage before the Tremist realize that there are cadets on board. Mason leads the cadets in an effort to take back the ship. What follows effectively shows Mason’s wonderful character traits: his ability to lead others, his ability to problem solve, and perhaps most important, his ability to subjugate his own needs and desires (like the desire to live) in order to help others.
Mason’s character is well drawn, as is that of his nemesis, Thomas. There is also the slightly mysterious and good friend, Merrin, whose unusual purple hair and translucent skin come to mean more than a good dye job or lack of sunshine.
Krokos doesn’t pull any punches in making this book one exciting situation after another. And he creates complex characters, including Mason. As a matter of fact, the very first scene has Mason playing a prank on his older sister, Susan, who works aboard the ship. A very childish prank.
That contrasts beautifully with Mason’s actions when someone must take control when the cadets are alone on the ship. Definitely not childish. He’s a character whom readers will want to emulate, flaws and all.
The primary plot conflict is that both the humans and the Tremist want another planet, Nori-Blue, because they have destroyed their own respective planets through indifference. However, as the plot unfolds, it becomes clear (spoiler alert) that an important theme in the novel is that a common enemy instantly creates surprising allies.
I couldn’t put this book down. I loved the main character, Mason Stark. And Krokos’ writing is extraordinary. The dialogue moves the plot along, and the action scenes are movie-perfect. The conflict between the teenagers is realistic, as are the portrayals of some of the teens who are reluctant to perform heroics.
And Krokos has Mason wisely allow his peers to choose where, when and how they want to help — isn’t that something we want to teach the next generation? That everyone has something (s)he is good at, and not everyone can be the captain?
This book would be a perfect choice for science fiction fans and also for reluctant readers. Read the first chapter out loud to any 5th grade class (or 4th or 6th or 7th grade) and it’s guaranteed that many students will be racing to the library to check out copies of their own.
Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover book provided by the publisher, Dutton Children’ Books, for review purposes.
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