AUTHOR: Lyssa Chiavari
Young Adult--Science Fiction
Lyssa Chiavari's vividly imagined YA sci-fi novel, FOURTH WORLD, opens on Nadin, a teen whose dying planet's days are numbered. With the air now toxic, her people are forced to live inside domed cities and must wear protective gear if they venture beyond the domes' protections. Which is why she's so shocked when a strange boy turns up outside with no life support and no identity.
Cut to how this boy got there. Isaak Contreras' family came from Earth as part of late 21st-century colonization effort, but he's a native-born Martian. Tierra Nueva, the Mars colony he lives in, was originally settled by low-income immigrants from Earth after corporations outsourced their operations there in an effort to stop polluting Earth's atmosphere. Gifted in linguistics, he just wants to get through his senior year and accept his inevitable future as a translator for Tierra Nueva's vastly diverse population. But when he stumbles upon a strange rock formation at the site of a geological dig--one that seems to hint at ancient human life on Mars--everything changes.
Isaak's search for answers puts him on the government's radar and makes him the target of a mysterious stalker. Surrounded by strange circumstances that feel like sci-fi even to him, he soon finds himself running--right into Nadin.
Holy cow, this is a good book! The world-building of both the Martian colony and Nadin's world, Iamos, is nothing short of spectacular. There's just enough science to make it feel like it could actually happen, yet isn't afraid to run away with its fanciful imaginings--not unlike old-school incarnations of Mars in Ray Bradbury's Martian Chronicles and, well, John Carter of Mars. There's also a bit of social commentary woven into the fabric of these sci-fi societies--about diverse immigrant populations under the thumb of money-grubbing corporations, about the dangers of eugenics and choosing control over freedom, about colonialism and those who would do anything to stay in power, even it means destroying the fabric of their world.
Isaak and Nadin both have distinct and engrossing character voices. Isaak is reminiscent of a contemporary teen, with his sarcastic quips and irreverent attitude. Yet he's also growing up in many ways, taking responsibility for his future and choices. Nadin, meanwhile, has been raised by her authoritarian government to be rational and practical, and therefore mature beyond her years. Yet she never quite became the perfect, emotionless automaton they intended her to be, and while Isaak struggles to control his inner turmoil, she struggles to express hers. Suffice it to say, both are complex and interesting characters.
Full of mysteries, intrigue, and fantastical new discoveries, FOURTH WORLD is the kind of book that's hard to put down. I was actually happy when my afternoon commuter train got stuck on the tracks for a good half hour because it meant I got to keep reading (everyone else was grumbling, but I was like, "Nah, I'm good. I've got a book!"). Every time I thought I knew what was going on, the plot threw another wrench into my conclusions--yet did so in a way that made so much sense, I wondered how I hadn't figured it out myself.
Also, can I just say, how great it is to see teens of color IN SPACE? (Well, on other planets--there's no actual space travel depicted, but you get the idea!) Plus, I think this is also the first YA sci-fi book I've read that specifically addresses a character's demisexual orientation.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book--everything about it. The characters, the plot, the friendships, the mysteries, the worlds (two of them! two sci-fi cities! two greedy dystopian governments! two futuristic societies!)... everything about it is just fantastic. I was quite bummed when I reached the end (which is a cliffhanger, opening up lots of questions for the sequel), and I'll certainly be back for more!
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