Amanda is bored. Every day is the same -- her life isn't bad, she actually likes it. But she wants more. She's not sure exactly what it is that she wants -- but it'll be found outside the city limits of New Pines (she calls it Picket Town). She and her friend Sam spend their days after school playing a computer RPG, eating with their families, playing the game some more and repeating the whole thing the next day.
Then something starts happening -- some of the kids in town come down with some sort of bacterial infection that requires them to be hospitalized while a cure is worked on. Amanda starts to wonder if everyone is going to be okay -- no matter how often she's assured that the grown-ups have everything under control. She wants to strike out, she wants to learn something -- and on the way home from school, they pass the same sign forbidding them to enter the forest that they walk by every day. But this day, this particular day she decides she's had enough -- and then she convinces Sam to come with her. They climb over the fence and explore the forest. This is the most thrilling thing they've ever done. Right up until the point that they find a what appears to be a flying saucer (well, a saucer that's landed). Pretty much everything they've ever known ends right there. What follows is exciting, dramatic, and unexpected (well, at least for the target audience -- Middle Grade -- adult readers will have a pretty good chance of seeing what's around the corner, most of the time).
I wasn't so sure that I was going to enjoy this at the beginning, I'm not sure why, it just didn't seem like it clicked. But it honestly didn't take long before it reminded me of the better SF I read in grade school, and I was in it for the long haul. Although, honestly, I'm not sure any of the books I read when I was that age would've gone where von Halle took this. That's a compliment, by the way, it may not look like one.
I'm not crazy about the conclusion, I have to say, as much as I liked almost everything that came before. There's a good twist to it -- and I really liked it. But the ending itself? I don't know -- it relied too much on a big info-dump, and then the reveal for Amanda and Sam could've been executed a little better. But I think those are quibbles, and I really don't imagine that there's a Fourth Grader out there that'll say the same thing.
This isn't a MG novel that transcends the label and that'll appeal to adults -- in other words, not everyone is J.K. Rowling. I'll give you a moment to digest that revelation. This <i>is</i> a MG novel that knows its audience and that will deliver what it wants. Were I in that audience, I'd be re-reading this a few times. I'm not, so I'll tell people to give it to someone who'll appreciate it more.
<i><b>Disclaimer:</b> I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest opinion, given above.</i>