A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
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).
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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?
- Authors: Amie Kaufman, Jay Kristoff
- Genre: Science Fiction
- Topics: Adventures, Friendship, Great Girl Role Models, Space and Aliens
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
- Publication date: December 14, 2015
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 13 - 18
- Number of pages: 608
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: June 4, 2020
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