Review: Bounders by Monica Tesler

Bounders_Tesler

ARC from Simon and Schuster for Honest Review

In the tradition of Michael Vey and The Unwanteds, twelve-year-old Jasper and his friends are forced to go up against an alien society in this first book in a brand-new adventure series!

Thirteen years ago, Earth Force—a space-military agency—discovered a connection between brain structure and space travel. Now they’ve brought together the first team of cadets, called Bounders, to be trained as high-level astronauts.

Twelve-year-old Jasper is part of this team being sent out into space. After being bullied back on Earth, Jasper is thrilled to have something new and different to do with other kids who are more like him. While learning all about the new technologies and taking classes in mobility—otherwise known as flying with jetpacks—Jasper befriends the four other students in his pod and finally feels like he has found his place in the world.

But then Jasper and his new friends learn that they haven’t been told everything about Earth Force. They weren’t brought to space for astronaut training, but to learn a new, highly classified brain-sync technology that allows them to manipulate matter and quantum bound, or teleport. And it isn’t long before they find out this new technology was actually stolen from an alien society.

When Jasper and his friends discover the truth about why Earth Force needs them, they are faced with a choice: rebel against the academy that brought them together, or fulfill their duty and protect the planet at all costs.

I  wanted to absolutely love Bounders by Monica Tesler. Here we have a debut MG author writing science fiction about a bunch of kids sent into space to save the world, awesome right? On top of this the kids are all dealing with learning disabilities and conditions like ADHD–this book has wonderful goals, an interesting premise and is MG sci-fi (awesome!) but right from chapter one I could feel myself pulling away from the story . . . Let’s back track a little.

Basic Review: Jasper has been bred for the Bounders program, a program that hopes to have humanity exploring the galaxy and space in the blink of an eye by “bounding,” which is only accomplishable by those with certain brain types. He’s had to keep his Bounder identity a secret–though because he’s so awkward and clumsy most people suspect that he’s a Bounder already. Because of this he doesn’t have many friends and really doesn’t fit in anywhere–so he is looking forward to the biggest adventure of his life: a fresh start in space with the Earth Force. Throughout the novel Jasper grows and learns to work with his Bounder force-mates and learns how to make friends and accept, not only himself, but others as well. What he can’t accept is the dubious methods and motives of Earth Force . . . Though the plotline and growth arc are familiar the book was, in general, a very enjoyable rendition and this is mostly because of:

The Good: The characters. I thought the characters were great and I enjoyed reading from Jasper’s perspective–a kid who is legitimately clumsy and potentially ADHD (too often do we have lead protagonists who suffer from hair that won’t stay down and therefore they are inept?). I enjoyed the flourishing friendships and dialogue and the premise that these kids’ awkward oddnesses were also the key to their “special abilities.” Also, Jasper’s parents were kind of great (despite my trepidations about genetic modification, see below) and very supportive and loving and I really like this aspect of the world building.

The Not-so-great: The pacing was weirdly slow? I kind of just wanted to get there already. This is perhaps easy for me to say as a sophisticated reader who has read WAY too many sci-fi novels and so saw all the twists and turns coming . . . But when the back copy gives us half of the secrets in the novel we kind of expect for these secrets to come and go quickly and that there are many more around the corner. Instead it just takes too long to find out the truth about Earth Force and the Bounders. However, young readers might not mind this pacing as much and may simply enjoy the sci-fi of it all. Another thing to note is that despite this being a futuristic sci-fi, there were no POCs to be found and this wasn’t necessarily explained away in the text for any reason (good or bad).

The Tipping Point: This was basically Ender’s Game for younger kids, and the problem with this, for me, was the lack of necessary interrogation of the ethics surrounding genetic modification . . . I felt that there was something seriously missing here and I felt uncomfortable with this from the start. The logic behind these very supporting and sweet parents in a world of otherwise normal children and rules seemed iffy at best. With Ender the children per family were limited, hence Ender being the third child (and the third attempt at a prodigy) was an anomaly–also Ender’s parents seemed to know they were being used but were willing to sacrifice their children for the greater good… and maybe a little glory. Basically, I really didn’t buy into the breeding of these children and that the parents were willing to allow for this kind of genetic testing . . . sure it allows for the premise that all children, even those with autism and ADHD, can be special and save the world, but the price of this message is that these children are also scientific experiments sacrificed by their parents and society . . . We lack the wonderful philosophical debates of Ender’s Game and the lightness with which this issue is dealt with in Bounders was disconcertingly too light.

In the end I do recommend this to beginner sci-fi readers. Jasper was a great character and the plot and story arc really work well as sci-fi light. I also don’t think that middle-grade readers are looking for a treatise interrogation about the ethics of genetic manipulation and child soldiers . . . and so, it’s a thumbs up for kids–potentially even those reluctant readers (sci-fi, relatable boy lead) but a thumbs down for adults.