Review: Mars Evacuees, Sophia McDougall

WHAT A TREASURE. Seriously, what a TREASURE. I read the first chapter of Mars Evacuees, one of the books Renay gave us in her fabulous SF starter pack, and I was so delighted with it that I set the book fondly and gently aside to read another day.

(If this doesn’t sound like the most rousing of recommendations, you must not know how I feel about delayed gratification. If little me had been administered the marshmallow test, she’d have asked the testers if it were possible to wait even longer and get even more marshmallows in the end.)

Mars Evacuees

This absolute genuine treasure of a book is about a girl called Alice whose mum fights the Morrors that have invaded Earth. Alice is evacuated from her posh school to Mars, which is safer from aliens though not safer from burning to death, where she meets brilliant Josephine and daring Carl (and Carl’s muffin of a baby brother, Noel). When all the adults vanish from the Mars station where the kids are being trained, it’s up to Alice and her friends to save the world.

One of two things is true about me and middle grade fiction: EITHER I mostly don’t enjoy it, so I only read it when people push it at me very hard indeed, so I end up reading the cream of the crop. OR I like middle-grade fiction quite a bit but read less of it than I could be reading because I have this false narrative that I don’t care for it. I think the first one is the true one! But maybe I’ll carve out some time next year to find a way to prove it one way or the other.

Whatever the case may be, Mars Evacuees is a treasure and a joy, and I wanted to hug it on every page. Alice and Carl and Josephine (and Noel) (and the large goldfish robot assigned to teach them their lessons) make a wonderful team, each of them bringing different skills to the table and balancing each other out in times of crisis. (Pretty much the whole book is crisis.) They’re plucky in the way middle grade book characters can get away with being plucky, but McDougall steers away from the over-preciousness that drives me bats, and she does allow her characters their moments of sadness and loss.

Perhaps most wonderfully of all — and I’ll get into spoilers for a minute here, if you can bear with me — the resolution of the story is that peace breaks out. About two-thirds of the way through, the kids come across a young Morror, and this slender line of communication becomes the basis for a (hopefully) lasting peace between the species. And whether or not it’s possible in real life for friendship to change the world, it was terrific to spend some time in a book where it was.

Mars Evacuees! Tell your friends!