Scientific Fiction or Fictional Science? Three Genre-Busting Reads

Janie and Betsy team up once again to bring you reviews of three recent scientific fiction works! Janie does the first and Betsy the second two. Are they fiction? Sci-fi? Read on to find out!

itch cover

Itch: the Explosive Adventures of an Element Hunter, by Simon Mayo.  Splinter, 2013, 410 pages.  Age/interest level: 11-15

Itchingham “Itch” Lofte, age 14, has a hobby with unfortunate side effects—not just for himself, but for chums and schoolmates alike.  In his neighborhood and along the beaches of Cornwall, England, he collects elements, aiming to one day box every item in the periodic table (which appears on the endpapers).  He needs to research their qualities, though– otherwise he might not have left the arsenic in his backpack when his class took a field trip to the greenhouse, where moisture created a poison mist that made everybody sick.  That was bad enough, but when a fellow element enthusiast sells him a rock that turns out to have very curious qualities, Itch is catapulted into an international scramble for the rock.  Has he, in fact, happened upon a previously-unknown element?

This genre might be called scientific fiction, or perhaps fictional science—real-world, present-day science with a “what if?” attached.  Solid nuggets of fact are folded not-too-obtrusively into a standard thriller plot with serviceable if not outstanding characters and more vomiting in a single volume than I’ve ever seen.  (Radiation poisoning will do that.)  There are some interesting sidelines on the environment, especially nuclear power—more popular in Europe than here.  Also, Itch has to do some soul-searching when he doesn’t live up to his own standards: “He had always assumed he was the sort who would own up to parents, teachers, or the police if he had done something wrong . . . but everything now seemed less clear.”  There’s some mild language, but Itch’s father displays genuine Christian faith and readers who like facts will love this.

  • Worldview/moral value: 4
  • Literary value: 3.5

Can radioactive water be behind the mysteries of the Fountain of Youth? The Water Castle raises the question!

The Water Castle by Megan Frazer Blakemore. Walker Childrens, 2013. 352 pages.

the water castle

Reading Level: Middle Grades, ages 10-12

Recommended For: Ages 9-14.

What if the Fountain of Youth really existed? What if it was somehow connected to radioactive water? Could that explain some of the mysterious goings on in the town of Crystal Springs? Ephraim Appledore-Smith and his family move to their ancestral family home in Crystal Springs after his father suffers a debilitating stroke. Their family home: The Water Castle. And it turns out that Ephraim isn’t the only one in Crystal Springs to have a multi-generational connection to this ancient home. Mallory Green’s family has been intimately connected with the castle-like abode as its caretakers throughout its history. Will Wylie’s family has also been connected, although his family’s relationship with the Appledores is more of a Hatfield and McCoy style.

The three kids end up forming a begrudging research team for a school project. As their research progresses, they make some startling discoveries about the old secrets of the Water Castle, secrets that have long-lived effects. They also form a firm friendship despite their families’ different backgrounds. The Water Castle is part sci-fi, part historical fiction, part adventure novel, and all fun; bonus: it’s well-written. This is a great read that also brings up some interesting questions about the effects of scientific research and scientists’ responsibilities with that research. It’s a good jumping off point for discussing friendship in general. Both boys and girls will enjoy this one, and the cast of characters is nicely diverse and well rounded.

Overall Rating: 4.25

  • Worldview value: 4 out of 5
  • Literary value: 4.5 out of 5
wake up missing cover

Wake Up Missing by Kate Messner. Walker Childrens, 2013. 272 pages. Age/interest level: 9-12.

When 12-year-old Cat suffers a concussion and brain damage after falling from her bird watching perch, nothing is quite the same. Her balance is a tad off, her memory a tad off, her concentration…you guessed it…a tad off. So when she and her mom  hear about an innovative brain science institution that’s promising full recovery, they are definitely interested. The only problem? When Cat arrives at the specialized institution tucked away in a remote part of the Everglades, she discovers that things aren’t always what they seem. Why, at such a prestigious institution, aren’t there more than a handful of patients? Isn’t it odd that they are all twelve year olds with similar brain damage? Why have some of the patients mysteriously disappeared? What is really going on?

Wake Up Missing is an adrenaline pumping read that just came out this month. A little bit of brain science, a little bit of potential DNA manipulation, a little bit about the history of some very famous scientists, and a lot of action make this book a quick and exciting read. Guys and girls both will enjoy the mixed cast of characters and the small subplots going on in the background. Anytime a book brings up such murky waters as DNA manipulation, there is much to discuss. This is not a “deep” novel, but there are great issues to pick apart. In this book, it is clear that the way each person was originally created is the way he or she should stay–even if a brain injury has complicated that original design (although Messner doesn’t phrase it quite that way, the point is there).

  • Worldview value: 4 out of 5
  • Literature value: 4 out of 5

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Betsy Farquhar

Betsy is the Managing Editor at Redeemed Reader. When she reads ahead for you, she uses sticky notes instead of book darts and willfully dog ears pages even in library books. Betsy is a fan of George MacDonald, robust book discussions, and the Oxford comma. She lives with her husband and their three children in the beautiful Southeast.

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  1. Crystal on September 29, 2013 at 12:19 pm

    Thanks for the reviews…these all look interesting, and I’ll be purchasing two or three of them. Just curious…why don’t you make the book-cover photos into Amazon links? I’d like to support the site with my purchases, plus it’s just easier to click over and buy something while I’m already online. I know you have the widget, but it’s kind of a pain to have to click through it looking for a book (and the ones reviewed on this page aren’t even on there).

  2. emily on September 29, 2013 at 3:05 pm

    Crystal, Glad these reviews are up your alley! And we love your question. The good news is that we have a very big site revamp in the works that you’re going to love. It should be much easier to buy books you love, find reviews you’re interested in, and support our work! Right now, we’ve kind of grown organically and some of those obvious things that would help our readers have slipped through the cracks. But never fear, we are working very hard behind the scenes to correct them! So watch for changes coming in the near future as well as a new website layout (that will be mobile friendly!) early in 2014.

  3. Crystal on September 29, 2013 at 4:24 pm

    Crystal likes Emily’s comment!

  4. Cybils 2013 Middle Grade Fiction | Semicolon on October 9, 2013 at 9:58 pm

    […] Itch: the Explosive Adventures of an Element Hunter by Simon Mayo. Reviewed at Redeemed Reader. […]

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