I’ve been reading a lot of Middle Grade (MG) books lately for both comps and craft. I know my own MG novel needs a major revision, so I’ve been reading as many MG books as I can while I let my own work simmer.
I came across SECRETS OF HOPELIGHT by Eva Blackstone on Net Galley, and was given a free copy in exchange for an honest review. I enjoyed the book so much that I wanted to introduce it to readers of my blog for To Be Read Tuesdays as well. Slug Pie Stories is sponsoring a GIVEAWAY for a copy—details at the end of this post!
SECRETS OF HOPELIGHT is a character-driven Sci-Fi MG novel with an unusual premise—the Earth has become so hot that people live in caves and only function at night, hiding from the heat as we might a blizzard. A lot of creativity went into descriptions of extreme weather and how to manage/adapt to it. The technology is not fanciful or hard to understand—adaptations of recognizable things in our world.
The world building isn't rushed, which allows us to bond first with the protagonist, Nubbin, and her friends, without being overwhelmed with too much detail. Yet enough detail is provided that I was able to picture this alt-earth clearly. Kudos for including art as part of the world building!
It's a great introduction to the Orwellian dystopia that is so popular in adult literature—yet it never crosses the line into “too dark and depressing.” It’s truly a fun and entertaining read. Blackstone has a rare ability to remember the frustrations of youth and convey them convincingly. Her clear, direct style is easy to sink into, yet her characters have enough depth that they are still lingering in my head weeks after I finished it. I’d gladly read a second book if this becomes a series!
As a mother I sometimes need spoilers to make a good decision about a book for my kid.
I think this book fills a unique niche in MG. Since kids generally enjoy reading about characters a few years older than they are, I peg the target audience at around 10-11. This is subjective and others might not agree. But this book is for a specific ten-year-old, who is ready for more mature content. There is a small romance and a kiss. Both my ten-year-old kid and myself as a ten-year-old would really dig this subplot. However, my eldest child (who is 13) would not have appreciated it at age 10 nor would he now. Every child is different.
I think it is hard to find books that fill that upper middle grade niche (trust me, I’m constantly looking!) and this book is a perfect fit for that age-group.
There is also some dark stuff in there—including mind control and the death of a character—that some readers might find upsetting. I will say that my own kids often surprise me with what I think they can’t handle and they actually enjoy. (See blog: Why We Need Darkness in YA Literature) Again, for an upper middle grade reader this shouldn’t be a problem, but you know what your kid can handle.
My only real criticism of this book is something out of the author’s control—the cover was a huge factor in my picking this book, yet it depicts a scene that is not actually in the book. That would have infuriated me as a child and I still find it mildly annoying as an adult. But I realize that decisions like covers and titles are often made by publishers and sales teams and in no way does the author deserve to be punished for it. I’m hoping there will be a second book and that this cover is foreshadowing!
Copyright © 2023 Lara Lillibridge
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