Under the Empyrean Sky: The Heartland Trilogy, Book 1

Book review by
Karen Wirsing, Common Sense Media
Under the Empyrean Sky: The Heartland Trilogy, Book 1 Book Poster Image
Thought-provoking, dystopian eco-adventure great for boys.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Gives children a glimpse of a society entirely made up of the poor and the ruling elite. Provokes thought about what could happen in America if there were no middle class.

Positive Messages

Money does not provide happiness or survival. Human survival depends greatly on preserving the environment. Also, family and relationships are above all the most important.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The main characters in Under the Empyrean Sky are not afraid to stand up for what they believe in, even if it means lashing out against their corrupt government. Although flawed, the leading three boys will do anything for one another and are great examples of friendship, loyalty, and thoughtfulness.


People are killed during a battle with the tyrannical government. Tasers, guns, and slingshots are used as weapons. Kids and adults get into fistfights. Fight scenes are graphic and explicit; however, the most disturbing act of brutality is a father who physically abuses his son after abusing alcohol.


Teen couples make out, and it's implied that they have sex.


Language helps show the division between the upper and lower class. The Heartlanders' use of expletives reflects their lack of formal education and separates them from the upper class. Words such as "s--t," "whore," and "godsdamn" are commonly used. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A main character smokes the "weed" (which is a form of tobacco) and teens drink alcohol. Most of the adults characters binge drink the local brew, which is similar to moonshine. The alcohol abuse isn't glamorized; rather, the author shows the ugly repercussions of addiction.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Under the Empyrean Sky is a dystopian adventure about three teen boys who defy their corrupt government to survive. The first of The Heartland Trilogy, it's a thought-provoking ride with an ecological theme. It includes brutal fistfights, some strong language ("s--t," "whore," "godsdamn"), a battle where tasers, guns, and slingshots are used as weapons and people die, and one disgruntled teen boy whose love is unrequited because the government assigns marriages. Adults and teens drink alcohol and smoke tobacco, and some adults abuse alcohol. Teen couples make out, and it's implied that they have sex.

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What's the story?

Cael McAvoy is a teen boy living in the Heartland, an impoverished city that has been overgrown with strains of genetically modified corn. As captain of the Big Sky Scavengers (a group of teens who make their living by finding random goods and reselling them for profit), he's beyond angry when the rival scavenger gang, led by the mayor's son, causes him to crash his ship. While forced to meander through the living corn, Cael and his team come across a field of forbidden fruits and vegetables. Just before Cael was born, the Empyrean government banned growing anything but corn. Cael, tired of looking into the sky to see the Empyrean privileged floating on their flotillas, living like lords and ladies while he and his loved ones barely scrape by, decides to take the seeds from the untouched garden and illegally harvest his own vegetables. There are just a couple of obstacles in his way: his father and the all-knowing government.

Is it any good?

This is a great story for those who love The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The colloquial language, thought-provoking themes, and tribulations that are frighteningly similar to modern-day issues will inspire lively discussion. Readers are drawn in emotionally as they watch innocent, likable people attempt to make sense of an unjust governing system they simply can't escape. Charming and abrasive characters mixed with funny one-liners on every page make Under the Empyrean Sky difficult to put down and leave readers eager for the second installment.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Familes can talk about dystopian novels. Why do you think books about oppressive futuristic governments are so popular?

  • Do you notice any similarities between the Heartlanders or the Empyreans and Americans today?

  • How does Under the Empyrean Sky compare with other dystopian novels you've read? How is it different? How is it similar?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love adventure and science fiction

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