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Aurora Rising

Book review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Aurora Rising Book Poster Image
Fabulous, violent sci-fi adventure about a misfit squad.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Since most of Aurora Rising is set in the future and about fictional creatures, the educational value is in learning about the story conceit of a "misfit crew" that has to work together for a joint cause that benefits the greater good. This is a common plot device in everything from Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy to Firefly and Six of Crows and the Lunar Chronicles.

Positive Messages

Like their other series, this book promotes teamwork, building trust, understanding the difference between just and unjust rules, and giving people the chance to prove and redeem themselves. Once again, the power of love compels individuals to make courageous if impetuous decisions. The book also encourages people to look beyond stereotypes and the superficial and really see and understand others.

Positive Role Models & Representations

All of the main characters have positive character strengths. Tyler is a natural leader -- brave, charismatic and visionary. Scarlett is empathetic and a great communicator; Aurora is generous and kind; Cat is courageous and fierce; Kal is fearless and strong; Zila is observant and intelligent; Finian is quick-witted and resourceful. Together they demonstrate the importance of teamwork, and they are a multiracial and multispecies squad with different backgrounds (two are aliens, Auri is half-Chinese, half-white, and Zila is black) and sexual orientations (Zila seems asexual and Finian is clearly bisexual).

Violence

Frequent violence. People are killed in graphic, bloody ways. A character has supernatural powers that can be extremely violent. Another character is born with an aptitude for war/combat/bloodlust that makes him a powerful weapon. Lots of fistfights, weapons, and close calls between people and aliens. Most characters are injured but (spoiler alert): a major character is taken over by a parasite and left for dead.

Sex

Scarlett remembers her many (as in four dozen or more) boyfriends and discusses their various physical attributes. Two characters each remember when their friendship turned into more, if only for one night. Their hookup is described vaguely, but it's clear they had sex. Two other characters have an intense chemistry but don't do more than hold hands. Two characters (who aren't together) kiss in an attempt to excuse their presence in an off-limits room.

Language

Comical fake cursing like "mother custard!" and "maker's breath," but also regular curse words like "f--king," "s--t," "a--hole," "arse," "son of a bitch," etc.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A few scenes of older teens drinking, but it's unclear in this distant future if they're underage for alcohol consumption. A couple of characters get or remember getting drunk. Discussion of popular drugs and how they're used.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Aurora Rising is the second series collaboration between Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, the friends and co-authors behind The Illuminae Files. Like their first trilogy, The Aurora Cycle is part futuristic space adventure, part character study with some romance and killer alien beings thrown into the mix. A page-turning thriller that's likely to make readers want to binge-read, this best-selling novel will appeal not only to the authors' considerable fan base but also to readers who enjoy stories about motley crews forced to work together, like Firefly and Six of Crows. The language is stronger in some characters' points of view than others, but it's not frequent ("s--t," "arse," and an infrequent "f--k"), and the sex is limited to flashbacks to two characters' important hookup and other characters' more comical recollections of dates. The violence, both widespread and personal, can occasionally be intense, bloody, and heartbreaking. This series starter explores courage, teamwork, and perseverance.

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What's the story?

AURORA RISING is the first book in the second futuristic sci-fi trilogy by best-selling authors Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. The duo behind the Illuminae Files trilogy is back with another series set in space, centering on a misfit Aurora Legion Squad (think intergalactic UN Peacekeepers of the far future). "Alpha" (squad captain) Tyler Jones is the golden boy of his graduating Aurora Academy class, but he misses the Draft to make the first picks of his crew because he answers a distress call from a famously missing Terran spaceship and saves the sole survivor on the spacecraft, Aurora Jie-Lin O’Malley, who wakes up from her cryogenic sleep to realize she's 200 years in the future. Tyler ends up with a crew that includes his twin sister Scarlett (diplomat/"Face") and their best friend Cat (pilot/"Ace"), who waited to be on Tyler's team, but then three bottom picks: disciplinary problem and probable sociopath Zila (science officer/"Brain"), and two different aliens -- Finian (tech officer/"Gearhead"), and Kal (combat officer/"Tank"). When the unlikely team goes on their first assignment -- an easy resupply mission -- they discover Auri has stowed on their ship. Once she's discovered, chaos ensues as the Terran Defense Forces seem to want to Auri for themselves, and it's clear there's much more to her than even she realizes.

Is it any good?

Kaufman and Kristoff's addictive multi-POV space adventure is utterly unputdownable and will leave readers counting the days until the second installment is released. These two authors know what they're doing when it comes to sci-fi dramas, and they set up the various characters and circumstances with an ease that immediately draws readers into their world. The crew is full of relatable types, but each one of them also transcends and subverts the predictable. Just when readers think they know what's going on, which characters will fall for each other, where the story is going, Kaufman and Kristoff pull the proverbial rug. This can lead to significant feels.

Although the plot is propulsive -- the crew predictably goes rogue in order to save Auri and becomes basically all of space's Most Wanted -- the characterization is well done. That being said, seven points of view can be difficult to follow (it's easier via audiobook, because a full cast narrates the ensemble), and some characters feel more fully developed than others. Still, all get a moment to shine. The two aliens are particularly compelling: Fin is snarky, bisexual, wears an exosuit to compensate for physical disabilities, and comes from a species with a fascinating and large family structure. Kal is from an alien warrior species known for their bloodlust. But the humans, led by Tyler, are also complicated and layered. The next book promises more adventure but also has a lot of questions to answer and hearts to heal.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the amount of violence in Aurora Rising. Do you think it's necessary to the story? Is there a difference between reading about death and violence and seeing it on screen?

  • How does this book compare with The Illuminae Files? What's similar? What's different? If you haven't read that trilogy, do you want to now?

  • What do you think about the big character twists in this story? Which ones were most surprising? Do you think that one character is gone for good? Why it is it so heartbreaking when a major character dies in a series?

  • What are some other popular books and movies about misfits who band together? What makes motley crews such a tried and true plot convention?

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