Review by Shalon Sims
HarperCollins Canada, HarperCollins Publishing, February 2020
320 pages, hardcover, $21.99 CAD, 978-1-44345-031-7
Ages 10-14, Grades 4-8
Middle Grade, Science Fiction, Action/Adventure
“Hey, young lady, I need that chain saw back right now!”
Seth turned to Anaya. “You know how to use that thing?”
“Of course I do,” she said.
That was good, Seth thought, because he had an overwhelming sense that something terrible was about to happen.
Bloom, the first book in Kenneth Oppel’s new Overthrow series, is a breakneck thriller and a real page-turner set on Salt Spring Island in British Columbia, Canada. Main characters Anaya, Petra and Seth endure the typical teenage trials of body insecurity and social anxiety, along with uniquely Gulf Island tribulations, such as having to chop firewood and dodge patchouli-scented body odour bombs. Also, Petra’s allergic to water, Anaya has terrible acne, and Seth is in foster care.
One day, a mysterious plant begins to bloom all over the island. A curiosity at first, the plants eventually become deadly, and they’re not just on Salt Spring—they’re growing all over the world. For Anaya, Petra and Seth, the arrival of these plants coincides with a strange but undeniable sense of power and ease. Okay, well, Petra starts growing a tail and Seth is sprouting feathers, but Anaya’s acne clears up—it’s a miracle! Although they personally feel more at home in the new world the plants are creating, something needs to be done about them before they kill everyone on the island.
Beyond the suspense, there’s also a satisfying exploration of friendship between the three teens that is not based in romance or a love triangle (refreshing in books for the age group). Having said that, the novel lacks a great deal of depth, which is not out of the ordinary for a thriller novel, but somehow disappointing, nonetheless. I also took issue with some of the gender representation: whereas Seth’s primary conflict is his need to find a permanent home, the girls, Petra and Anaya, are almost exclusively conflicted by their looks and jealous of each other. The adjective “pretty” is used as a description over ten times.
Beyond that, the book’s setting really makes it stand out. Not only is it a unique setting for a science fiction thriller, but the author has clearly had close encounters with the Gulf Islands. He captures island living in vivid detail: the isolation and lack of immediate access to outside help, deep sense of community, and respect for local nature are all essential elements of the plot.
Middle-grade readers would really enjoy the gripping plot, well-developed characters, and unique setting. I don’t recommend this book for an in-class novel study, as it does not investigate any social justice issues and does reinforce some gender stereotypes, but it is very entertaining. It would be great for reluctant readers seeking adventure.
Shalon Sims is a writer and teacher candidate at UBC. She writes middle grade and young adult science fiction, and hopes to work with those same ages when she becomes a teacher. Visit her at shalonsims.com and learning2grow.org.