A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
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 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
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.
Violence & Scariness
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.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
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.
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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.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Infrequent references to drinking.
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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).
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.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.