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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
The central character is named Leo Fender, with no overt acknowledgement of the guitar-genius namesake and brand. One character is very into 20th century rock, and present-day readers will catch references to Pearl Jam, the Rolling Stones, and more amid the T-shirt and poster art. David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars is a coveted rarity in the book's world. The pirates' space ship is called the Icarus, after the figure in Greek mythology. An alien, technologically superior species offers friendship and support to Earth's inhabitants while strip-mining the planet and making it uninhabitable, which may launch some interesting real-life comparisons.
"Nothing good ever comes from leaving the ones you love"-- often repeated, pretty much true. Strong messages of family, friendship, teamwork, thinking outside the box -- and dealing with the fact that things rarely go as you plan or wish.
Positive Role Models
Struggling with many challenges, Leo is often scared and confused, but kept on the right path by the support and kindness of others -- in the past and in the present -- and shows a lot of courage and resourcefulness dealing with constantly shifting, usually hazardous situations. His late mother, seen in flashbacks, has left a huge hole in his heart, but also a strong sense of courage, purpose, and being loved. His father, always upbeat and confident of a good outcome, acts for what he thinks is the best, but is fundamentally weak when being manipulated by his captors. The pirates do a lot of thieving, robbing, and trickery -- but also show kindness, courage, teamwork, and often-unexpected kindness.
Violence & Scariness
Leo is traumatized when his father forces the family to flee the only home they've known for outer space because the Earth is being destroyed. He's also scarred and troubled by nightmares in the wake of his mom's death -- along with many others, Leo's mother was killed in an extraterrestrial attack on Earth by a lizard-like spacefaring species bent on seizing the planet's resources for themselves, who go on to kidnap Leo's father and set the family's craft adrift in space. The ensuing conflict between Earth's extraterrestrial allies and enemies wipes out economies, ecosystems, cultures, beliefs, and people. Many scenes involve combat, from hand-to-hand violence to blasting people, planets, and ships with space weapons, and casualties are plentiful. Bounty hunters are after Leo's tather, and also Leo, in addition to the pirates. One character has a bionic arm to replace the limb she lost in her early thieving career. In the past, bullies lock 7-year-old asthmatic Leo in a dark closet; his older brother beats up the ringleader. Discussion of various alternatives to the debilitating crotch kick for alien species. A computer hacker has a detached, disembodied brain.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
In the past, a character's romance ended badly, and now his ex is a bounty hunter out to bring him in for a big reward. Reference to "double-crossing Herflax humpers."
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Frequent references to "poop," "turds," "piss," "crap," "anus," "stinking guts," "Jeez," "What. The actual. Hell," occasional middle-finger humor. "Freking" is a swear word.
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Products & Purchases
Lots of mentions of brand names, especially of products long extinct on Earth, including Twinkies and Dr. Pepper. Also Lockheed space equipment, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles references, musician and band names, and other 20th century pop cullture mentions.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Several scenes take place in scuzzy bars on outlaw planets; some adult characters get drunk, or try to, and dream of opening their own scuzzy bar on some outlaw planet.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Stowaway is the first book of a two-part science fiction epic by best-selling author John David Anderson, in which a tween boy and a motley crew of space pirates face many perils from assorted alien species, smugglers, fellow pirates, and other intergalactic evildoers. All of whom are on an obsessive quest to acquire as much as possible of the rare element Ventasium, an essential requirement of faster-than-light space travel, and willing to pillage entire planets to get it. That's what's happened to Earth, where things have gone from bad to worse since the "friendly" Aykari arrived, formed an alliance with Earth, and are reducing the planet to a polluted, dystopian junk heap with their strip mining. But not before the lizard-like Djarik, who want the "V" for themselves, have rained down destruction on the Earth's cities, killing many including the protagonist's beloved mom. Fleeing the planet, the dad and two brothers are on a space ship when the Djarik attack, kidnapping the dad and leaving the ship helpless -- and that's just the beginning of this fast-moving, plot-twisting cliffhanger. As with his other books, Anderson deftly balances emotional difficulties, humor, and great storytelling to weave a memorable tale of relatable, quirky characters. Characters often do ethically dubious things (many of them are pirates, smugglers, or computer hackers), but often have an odd but strong moral compass that keeps them on the right path. Plentiful references to "crap," "pee," "poop," etc. Family and friendship are strong themes, even if they have to develop in a world where it's hard to know who to trust or why -- and leave much unresolved for Book 2.
Is It Any Good?
This fast-moving, emotionally complex, plot-twisting space epic will bring howls of anguished suspense, as its cliffhanger ending will have you on the edge of your seat for some time. There's a lot to like in this tale of young Leo Fender (no apparent relation to the guitar genius), an asthmatic, anxious tween in the late 21st century, who finds himself a Stowaway on an intergalactic pirate ship trying to save his family and Earth itself. Which won't be easy, as the planet is being rapidly strip-mined into toxicity and environmental collapse by a technologically superior alien race -- and being bombarded by yet another alien race who wants the rare mineral for itself. In author John David Anderson's spacefaring dystopia, it's hard to know whom to trust or how to act for the best -- but Leo has to try, and we're right there with him.
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.