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Outta this world

In these middle-grade and middle-school science-fiction novels, aliens variously come in peace or seek to destroy humanity — but either way, their existence forces characters to ponder deep philosophical questions and experience life-changing journeys.

Frank Cottrell Boyce’s Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth begins with narrator Prez Mellows (who is electively mute) opening the front door of his foster family’s house to find an unusually clad stranger named Sputnik. To Prez, he looks like a boy; to everyone else, like a dog. But Sputnik is actually an alien who can read minds and play with the laws of physics. Sputnik must find “ten things worth seeing or doing” in order to save Earth from destruction, and what follows is a madcap series of cinematic action sequences. (HarperCollins/Walden Pond, 10–14 years)

When the titular Felix Yz (pronounced is) was three, his scientist father was vaporized in a lab accident and Felix himself “got fused at the atomic level with a hyperintelligent being from the fourth dimension” named Zyx (rhymes with six). As the novel opens, there are twenty-nine days to go until ZeroDay, when scientists will attempt to separate Felix (now thirteen) and Zyx in a procedure that may either help Felix or kill him. The novel’s premise allows for fascinating reflections on many ways of feeling different (including those related to physical abilities and to gender and sexual identities), and debut author Lisa Bunker accomplishes this with little heavy-handedness. (Viking, 10–14 years)

In the bleak, dystopian future world of Nathan Hale’s graphic novel One Trick Pony, Earth has been invaded by a hostile alien species. After protagonist Strata excavates a robot horse on a salvage expedition, the two become fiercely devoted to each other, but this discovery sets off a terrifying chain of events that threatens humanity’s very existence. This gripping science-fiction saga plays out in expertly paced and varied comic panels rendered in grayscale with effective yellow accents. An engaging, racially diverse cast and brave heroine give this high-stakes epic adventure wide appeal. (Abrams/Amulet, 10–14 years)

As the sun began going supernova, the people of Earth retreated to Mars to build a fleet of spaceships that would take them to a new planet many light-years distant. At the start of Last Day on Mars, it is now Earth year 2213, with the last ship’s departure from Mars less than twenty-four hours away. Teens Liam and Phoebe discover evidence of extraterrestrial life, and Liam acquires a piece of alien technology that gives him the ability to observe a disastrous future — unless he and Phoebe can stop it. Author Kevin Emerson doesn’t stint on the stakes (the survival of humanity) or the magnitude of danger in this thrilling space adventure. (HarperCollins/Walden Pond, 10–14 years)

From the July 2017 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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Cynthia K. Ritter About Cynthia K. Ritter

Cynthia K. Ritter is associate editor of The Horn Book Guide. She earned a master's degree in children's literature from Simmons College.

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