Monday, March 5, 2018

The Countdown Conspiracy

The Countdown Conspiracy
by Katie Slivensky
Recommended Ages: 12+

Miranda Regent is 13, and she's going to Mars. I know! That's crazy, right? It's as preposterous as spy kids, a school for wizards, and a family of sparkly vampires, right? Where could this happen except in a world invented by a Young Adult author? Well, once you visit the world invented by this Young Adult author, the possibility starts to seem more like an inevitability. For one thing, peace has finally returned after a decade-long world war over who owns the swag brought home from an international asteroid-mining operation. The U.S. has come out of it smelling pretty bad. So a lot of eyebrows are raised when this girl from Ohio wins one of six spots in a program to train kids for a Mars mission specifically limited to those born after the conflict began.

Does she really deserve to be there, or did the U.S. pull strings to get her in? Even Miranda herself doesn't know, which makes it harder for her when she has to struggle to keep up with her fellow cadets at an international base in Antarctica. At least one of her classmates is pretty open about not wanting her to be there. And someone involved in the program apparently feels pretty strongly about it, too, considering the series of attempts on Miranda's life, starting from Day One of her training. Miranda feels increasingly isolated, especially after an attempt on her life kills two innocent people and causes the cadets' first leave to visit home to be canceled. Then her best friend Sasha, who almost made it into the program, falls off the planet and stops answering Miranda's texts. Pretty soon, she has no one to talk to except her pet robot Ruby, with whom she spends countless hours working on the spaceplane that the kids are supposed to take to Mars someday.

Then comes the day of the practical exam, a launch simulation, when everything goes totally pear-shaped. Thanks to a brilliant saboteur working within the program, the astro-kids face an ordeal of survival in which Miranda's engineering skills will play a crucial role.

Katie Slivensky, whose previous book The Seismic Seven depicted a group of kids racing to stop a super-volcano from erupting in Yellowstone National Park, evidently did a lot of research for this book, and it paid off. This is a terrific adventure that I think could get a lot of kids excited about the space program - any space program, not just the U.S. one. Perhaps even more importantly, it explores the feelings of a brilliant young person who finds herself struggling to meet expectations and being tested by adversity, with seemingly everyone against her and no one for her when it really counts. How she overcomes this, without becoming bitter or giving up, is an inspiring thing to behold.

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