A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Reading level expects a good vocabulary, as words like "scenario," "objectively," "expletive," "nefarious," "upheaval," "insecurities," "equate," "condescendingly." As the kids encounter technology and infrastructure they've never seen, the math, science, and practical survival skills they've learned help them understand what's going on and how it works. A librarian and library skills play a crucial role.
Strong messages of family, friendship, and refusal to accept other people's definitions and labels that restrict you. Several Big Lies are discovered behind a lot of those definitions and labels. Form your own bonds and live by your own values with your friends and family. Work your way through misunderstandings, suspicions, and hurt feelings. Courage, bravery, teamwork, and problem-solving skills matter.
Positive Role Models
Birdie, Seven, and Tenner (all 13) are now the designated adults of their extended family following the death of their last parent, and do their best to live up to the responsibility, using their powers to help one another thrive and survive. Younger kids Cabot (11 and crazy-smart) and Brix (Birdie's 10-year-old younger brother, who bounces and heals fast) are essential to the team and do their part. They also struggle with emotional issues of misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and assorted baggage, but friendship and family carry the day. Their supernatural-criminal parents are mostly in the background, but while some of them are selfish and evil, others are heroic, kind, and protective. A librarian plays an important role in helping the kids.
Much of the action revolves around a place called Estero City, where many people and place names are in Spanish. The young protagonists are a variety of ethnicities, including Latino and Portuguese, and characters are described as having a variety of skin tones. There's a lot of girl power going on, as 11-year-old Cabot (superpower yet to be revealed) is really smart, and 13-year-old Birdie is the oldest and the leader.
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Violence & Scariness
The kids' quest comes about when the sole remaining parent in their extended family dies and sends them to search for the other long-disappeared adults. Two skeletons along the way suggest that at least two of the parents have died. At least one parent is imprisoned by a dictator, while the fates of others remain unknown. The kids must dodge all the authority figures who want to lock them up because of their powers. One parent, now probably dead, physically and emotionally abused his son to "build character," and was described as a bully by other adults. A kid with supernatural healing abilities fixes his own dislocated shoulder, painfully.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Teen boy and girl characters occasionally hold hands, but it's about friendship and support at this point in the tale.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Map of Flames is the first in a series by Lisa McMann (The Unwanteds, Going Wild). It's about five superpowered kids, ages 10–13, who've grown up in an isolated hideaway under the care of the group's only surviving parent, and who embark on a quest to find two kids' long-disappeared mother. It's complicated: Fifteen years earlier four couples, all with supernatural powers (like invisibility) fled Estero City -- where, shunned and feared for their powers, they all turned to crime to survive, and now were a target for strongman President Fuerte's efforts to lock them all up. Hidden away from the world, they had five children. Over the years, all but one of them left in hopes of returning to Estero City and recovering a lost stash of stolen goods -- and were never seen again. As the adventure unfolds, some skeletons are discovered that probably belong to some of the parents, and other parents prove to be imprisoned. Along the way, the kids deal with issues of jealousy, hurt feelings, self-doubt, and fear, but their bond, teamwork, and powers get them through many perils to an ending that sets up the next installment.
Is It Any Good?
Outcasts who band together to triumph over danger and adversity is a favorite theme with Lisa McMann, who's in great form in this tale of superpowered kids seeking their long-lost parents. Launching her new Forgotten Five series, Map of Flames finds the children of supernaturally gifted outlaws on a quest for their long-lost parents, delivering great world-building and relatable characters and emotions, plus thrills, perils, and lots of funny moments. Amid the exciting story, it also raises interesting ethical issues, like how you're supposed to behave in a society that hates and fears you for what you are and what you can do. A lot happens, much is discovered -- and it's all just the beginning of what promises to be an exciting, thought-provoking 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.