A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Spaced Out is a smart, enjoyable mystery by Stuart Gibbs (the FunJungle series), though it doesn't do much to move along the Moon Base Alpha series and can easily be enjoyed as a stand-alone story. Like the first book, this one delivers a high-stakes mystery to be solved -- this time, it's a race to find and hopefully save the lunar outpost's missing commander. A rich family that paid to live on the moon is cartoonishly evil, greedily stealing valuable resources, threatening others, and even encouraging their son to beat up other children. Adults are generally concerned for the welfare of others and and attentive to children, but they too become physically aggressive when angry. The scientists and families living on the moon are extremely bright, but their emotional and interpersonal skills generally aren't as strong. It's a pointedly diverse cast of characters, though one off note is a portrayal of a "purely Caucasian" family as unattractive.
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What's the story?
Moon Base Alpha is a lousy place for hide-and-seek, so it's particularly baffling when the space colony's commander disappears. Twelve-year-old Dashiell was the last person to see her alive, and he begins piecing together clues to try to figure out where she might have gone and why. He joins the scientists and other children living at the base in a desperate search within the base and on the dangerous lunar surface in hopes of finding the commander alive. Meanwhile, Dash has to cope with a family of vicious bullies and unsettling conversations with his curious friend Zan, who's hinting that the entire human race might be in serious trouble.
Is it any good?
Smart science and engaging characters -- both kid and adult -- make this an enjoyable stand-alone mystery, though it's a weak bridge to the next installment in the series. SPACED OUT suffers from middle-book syndrome: It echoes the themes and issues of Book 1 but does little to advance the overall story arc. Dash's telepathic friend Zan pops up sporadically with vague hints of looming danger, but the device feels disjointed right through to the tacked-on cliffhanger ending. The plot line involving the campily snobby Sjoberg family is a limp red herring that detracts from an otherwise solid story.
Author Stuart Gibbs uses the mystery of the missing commander to show how people can be both wonderful and disappointing. His key characters are brilliant and often brave, but they have a hard time getting along, coping with domestic stress, dealing with prickly people, and abiding by rules. They second-guess themselves and make dumb decisions -- and they accept the consequences of their actions. Newcomers to the series will have no trouble jumping in at this point. The next book promises some high-stakes drama involving climate change that's sure to resonate with kids.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how series are developed. Do you prefer series where each book can stand alone, or do you prefer those that only work well when read in their entirety?
How does the drama within the lunar base compare with that on reality TV shows you've seen?
Even the adults in this story have a hard time dealing with bullies. Do you ever notice grown-up bullies?
- Author: Stuart Gibbs
- Genre: Mystery
- Topics: Adventures, Brothers and Sisters, Great Boy Role Models, Science and Nature, Space and Aliens
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
- Publication date: April 5, 2016
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 8 - 12
- Number of pages: 352
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
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