Illuminae: The Illuminae Files, Book 1

Book review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Illuminae: The Illuminae Files, Book 1 Book Poster Image
Popular with kids
Pulse-quickening space thriller is fantastic but intense.

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 3 reviews

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 13 reviews

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Readers will learn about military protocol, about what makes some people better recruits than others for military service, and how in war the lives of some can be sacrificed to save others.

Positive Messages

Positive messages about teamwork and trust during difficult times, about the need for transparency and truth so people understand the context of situations, and the power of love to propel you to make courageous decisions.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Kady is an intelligent, inquisitive main character who questions authority and looks for answers and the truth. She saves Ezra with her smarts and her hacking abilities. Ezra is courageous, physically strong, and dedicated to protecting Kady. AIDAN wants to protect the fleet but is willing to sacrifice some to protect others. Jimmy is brave and funny.


Frequent violence. People are killed in graphic, bloody, inhuman ways by those who've succumbed to the supervirus; the infected kill people by dismemberment, decapitation, and blunt-force trauma and with bare hands. The dead are occasionally found with their eyes cut out. Reports of infected people killing their loved ones, including their family members (including children). Whole ships of people are destroyed, and an entire colony was attacked, with the majority of people killed. People are deliberately executed and shot out of airlocks into space, where they disintegrate.


Jokes and references to making out, sex, sex acts, and masturbation made via online chats. Jimmy tells Ezra he's going to keep Kady's photo and "use" it; Ezra warns Jimmy that if he finds the photo on the ceiling above his bed, he will seduce his sister. Kady tells Ezra she can't wait to see him again and do something she was particularly good at. Ezra realizes the girl he first kissed is dead. Kady tries to bring up a dating anniversary that presumably led to romance. Some comments are redacted but obviously reference sex acts being joked about between guys. Reference to two officers who are sleeping with each other. Kady and Ezra are separated for most of the book. Only a couple of kisses are described.


The documents in the file redact strong language, but you can still tell (or imagine) what the words are given the context or a few letters still visible. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Infrequent references to drinking.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Illuminae is a sci-fi space epistolary thriller that takes place in the distant future. The story unfolds via a mysterious file that includes transcripts of recovered interviews, emails, surveillance footage, chats, and an advanced AI system's memory. Strong language is redacted from the documents, but readers can still tell or guess what the words were, despite the blacked-out letters. The violence is occasionally graphic, as the infected people kill others via mutilation, dismemberment, decapitation, and blunt-force trauma -- basically any means necessary. Wide-scale violence includes the destruction of entire spaceships and most (if not all) aboard, as well as the initial attack on a mining colony. Some of the transcripts include personal memories of the central romance as well as a few jokes and references about sex (but only a couple of kisses are described).

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byALB813 December 23, 2015

A Whole New Genre Must Be Created For This One!

Kady Grant has normal teen girl problems: school, parents, and a boyfriend she just dumped. somehow her life spins out of her control when Kady's planet,... Continue reading
Adult Written byToastafter10 May 26, 2020

Loved it, but does contain some mature themes

I read this book after my daughter (almost 12) read it in record time and immediately asked for book two. It’s a fast paced and thought provoking sci-fi told fr... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byXinaTurtle December 29, 2015

Very Good Story

Illuminae was one of those books that you can't forget. And it wasn't because the plot was good (though it was), or the characters were well developed... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byReadingIsRad February 15, 2019

Great Book!

This starts out as the best book you will ever read. If I had to choose between Harry Potter and this book, it would be this book. However more than one time st... Continue reading

What's the story?

ILLUMINAE is a file of documents making up the story of what happened to two teens after a catastrophic attack on the tiny mining space colony where they lived. On an otherwise unremarkable day in the year 2575, Kady Hunt thinks the worst thing in her life is sitting in class with her newly minted ex, Ezra Mason. But after a warship attacks, she runs to her car and gives Ezra a ride that saves his life. On the run, they dodge death and injury multiple times and are ultimately separated -- he's on the huge military battlecarrier the Alexander, while she's on the smaller research ship the Hypatia. Eventually, as it becomes clear that a mega-corporation wants to exterminate all witnesses to the attack, the ships grapple with an unexpected supervirus that starts to spread fatally on the third ship in their surviving fleet. The infected are only sick at first but eventually turn into homicidal zombie-like creatures. As Ezra becomes conscripted as a fighter pilot, Kady uses her hacking skills to connect with another computer genius aboard the Hypatia, with hopes of uncovering the truth about what's happening. Meanwhile, the fleet's commanding AI, AIDAN, could just be insane.

Is it any good?

Mix some Battlestar Galactica with a sprinkling of The Walking Dead and 2001: A Space Odyssey, and you'd get this very flavorful if incredibly intense space thriller. Cowritten by Australian best-selling authors and friends Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, it features wonderful protagonists Kady and Ezra, who are believably adolescent, driven to survive, and attached to each other under unthinkably horrific circumstances. Ezra, a former star "gee-ball" player (think basketball), is imposing and quick-witted but much more trusting in authority, unless Kady is involved. Kady, on the other hand, might be physically tiny, but she's by far the fiercer of the two, willing to question what she's told and literally hack the system to uncover ugly truths about the attack, the virus, and AIDAN, the unreliable AI that will remind adult readers of 2001's HAL.

Although some readers may be tempted to skip over the various illustrations and schematic documents, don't. There's detailed information on every page, and it's worth reading (and rereading once you're done). Expect to be a bit confused at times, but don't worry -- Kaufman and Kristoff sort everything out, and your mind just might be proverbially blown in the process. The first in a projected trilogy, Illuminae is difficult to put down but occasionally difficult to read -- especially when the infected let loose and go on a bloody rampage. The authors are fairly merciless about sacrificing characters for the good of the story, but that's the only heads up you'll get. Ideal for fans of catastrophe stories and intense journeys, Illuminae is sure to appeal equally to reluctant readers and voracious ones who want the next big series.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the popularity of space-disaster thrillers. What makes this idea so interesting? 

  • Fans of sci-fi books: What do you think of the world-building? Which other sci-fi space books does this remind you of?

  • What are the advantages of reading an epistolary book? What are the limitations?

  • The romance in Illuminae is unique in that the couple is almost never physically together, and they're broken up when the book starts. Do you like the way the authors handled the romance? Why are opposites-attract stories so compelling?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love science fiction and thrillers

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