Review by GiGi Kang
Orca Book Publishers, April 11, 2023
261 pages, paperback, $12.95 CAD, 9781459836730
Ages 9 to 12
Excerpt to come with book’s release
Imagine commanding a spacecraft at only fourteen years old. Houston Williams finds himself in this exact position in Mission to Mars by bestselling author Eric Walters, the third book in the Teen Astronauts series.
Accompanied by his friends of the same age, Teal and Ashley, Houston must be fearless and dedicated to encouraging both himself and his crew to push forward despite unexpected tragedy as they travel toward Mars. While Houston tends to envision complications before they are even a possibility, his friends bring out the positivity in him. The relationships between Houston, Teal, and Ashley are what make Mission to Mars so charming.
Although countless miles away from Earth, they still find ways to celebrate special occasions like birthdays and Christmas. The three friends support each other through grief, lightening every situation with humour and jokes because, after all, they’re still teenagers. That being said, I felt the dynamics between the three characters were unbalanced in the first half of the novel. For instance, the relationship between Houston and Teal is much more predominant while Ashley remains in the background. Her character is understated in the beginning as the romantic tension between Houston and Teal is built up alongside the larger dangers of survival. However, as the journey to Mars progresses and the group overcomes obstacles through collaboration and trust, Ashley becomes just as integrated and essential. While I wish we saw more of Ashley’s autonomy and capabilities in the first half, the second half offers much more insight into her character.
All three kids are determined to survive and grow, and they refuse to rest until they’ve completed their mission, making for a fast-paced, engaging novel. Alongside their perseverance, they uphold their individual learning journeys: Teal becomes the designated medical expert, Ashley undergoes training from the Mission Control engineers, and Houston sharpens his skills on onboard simulators. Their problem-solving discussions provide insight into STEM topics, such as the function of a SAFER—a Simplified Aid For EVA Rescue—or a space jetpack worn by astronauts during any extravehicular activity (EVA). Such explanations are presented as dialogue between the characters, seamlessly providing information while keeping the reader engaged in the action of the scene.
Overall, Mission to Mars is a fictional story filled with real facts about outer space exploration and the planet Mars. The novel is an action-packed learning resource for anyone who enjoys uncovering the secrets and possibilities of our galaxy, as well as for those who are just as imaginative as they are pragmatic. Readers who enjoy fictional stories like We Dream of Space by Erin Entrada Kelly or I Love You, Michael Collins by Lauren Baratz-Logsted, and those who enjoy nonfiction books related to outer space will find Mission to Mars exhilarating. Returning fans of the Teen Astronauts series can expect to learn more about Houston and his friends. Eric Walters places three teenagers in a life-or-death situation and showcases the value of patience, courage, and friendship—even amongst astronomical hurdles.
GiGi Kang is a Canadian writer studying English Literature and Creative Writing at UBC. She is a poet and also writes at LA-based creative platform and magazine The Luna Collective where she interviews creatives from around the world and reviews the latest music and film releases. Read more at gigikang.com