Alien Road by M.J. McIsaac

Review by Hooria Bilal

Orca Book Publishers, August 17, 2021

131 pages, Paperback, $10.95 CAN, 978-1459826984

Ages 9-12, Grades 3-7

Middle Grade, Mystery, Science Fiction

I can’t help it. A laugh bursts out of me. I brush the sand off my sketchbook. “The Bermuda Triangle? That’s not real, Karl. That’s just an urban legend.”

            He scowls. “No, it isn’t!” He jumps to his feet, pointing at the sand. “Do you know how many boats have disappeared in this area? Countless! I’ve read all about it!”

            “Okay, Karl,” I say, trying to get a hold of my laughter. “Maybe your dad should hire the coast guard to protect your floating mansion from aliens or ghosts or whatever you think is out there.”

“No one knows what’s out there,” he says, “That’s why it’s so dangerous!”

When Ridge and his mom are invited to travel to the Caribbean on a luxurious cruise ship for spring break, being abducted by a colony of extraterrestrials is the furthest thing from his mind.

Unfortunately for Ridge, the host’s son—Karl—is a conspiracy theorist and, according to him, their route is headed right through the Bermuda Triangle where several boats and aircraft have inexplicably disappeared. Despite having to share a cabin with Karl and listening to him insist they’re journeying toward their doom, Ridge is determined to enjoy his vacation. Their cruise ship, the Paradise II, is so big that ignoring Karl shouldn’t be a problem. But after setting sail, Ridge can’t seem to ignore the strange behavior of the crewmates, the mysterious disappearance of the first Paradise, and the weird reoccurring dreams he’s been having—all which lead him to believe that Karl’s warnings might be right.

The main highlight of this book are the two main characters, Ridge and Karl. M.J. McIsaac captures a witty and fun dynamic between these two as they unravel the underlying mystery behind the previous cruise ship’s disappearance and the elusive behaviour of the crew-mates on board. The two balance each other quite well, with thirteen-year-old Ridge playing the rational voice of reason compared to ten-year-old Karl who is blunter and more reckless in his endeavour for the truth. As the main point of view, Ridge offers an entertaining narrative voice throughout the story, but also has the maturity to draw Karl back from going too far with his investigative actions—much to Karl’s annoyance. Their relationship provides an engaging dynamic as their tentative teamwork turns into an eventual friendship.

The reoccurring paranormal elements really hooked me into the story and kept me interested in uncovering the mystery. McIsaac does a great job of incorporating these elements to create tension in the difficult situations Ridge and Kyle find themselves in. However, I feel the conclusion is tied up rather abruptly, and, after finishing, I couldn’t help but wish there was more depth to the resolution. Personally, I feel that expanding the plot could foster a more satisfying ending. For instance, I want to know more about the backstories of some of the other side characters, like Captain Bob and Penelope, who aren’t fleshed out despite having crucial roles that tie into the main plot.

Having said that, the accessible writing style and engaging dialogue makes this book easy to get into and perfect for reluctant or emerging readers. The fast-paced plot and supernatural elements could especially interest fans of Goosebumps. Overall, I found this book to be an entertaining read, with a great balance of humour and suspense.

Hooria Bilal is an undergraduate at UBC majoring in Biology and minoring in Creative Writing. She enjoys reading middle grade and YA books in her spare time, her favourite genre being fantasy-adventure.

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