Tuesday, March 4, 2014

My middle name is Danger

"My middle name is Danger," is something Maisie Danger Brown doesn't like to tell people, because it's such a misnomer for her. Because she's homeschooled, she's slightly disabled (born without one hand), she loves poetry, and she's a wanna-be astronaut nerd. All of those things absolutely endeared her to me. 

Dangerous, by Shannon Hale, releases today and I've been eager to share the details about this interesting departure from Shannon Hale's usual famous books, like The Goose Girl and Princess Academy (middle grade audience, set in traditional fantasy settings). This book is young adult science fiction, blended with X-men-like superhero stuff.  The blurb for this book is almost useless, all it mentions is "falling in love with a boy at space camp" - leaving out what I found most interesting of all:  that Maisie's determined to become an astronaut, despite being only one-handed.  

In a nutshell: Dangerous is a dashing blend of science fiction (SPACE!!!), young adult angst, poetry, and superhero antics. What I loved: SPACE!!!!!! and GREAT dialogue and some very cool ideas. 

What I didn't like so much: too much action crammed into one book, resulting in a breakneck pace that I couldn't keep up with at times. But I'm glad I stuck with it, because I really liked how the end turned out. You know how you're not supposed to take the movie Back to the Future that seriously? That's sort of how you should take this book, just sit back and enjoy the craziness and try not to connect all the dots too closely. 

I also tend to judge a book by how much stuff I highlight in it: funny tidbits, thoughtful tidbits, nerdy cool ideas or expressions. And I highlighted A LOT in this book. So that tends to make me happily overlook its flaws.

First line (not counting the prologue):

Every superhero has an origin story. Mine began with a box of cereal.

I just loved the first chapter. We get Maisie's great voice, her Paraguayan mother, her multi-lingual background, ("Gaucala," I said. The Spanish word for gross sounded so perfectly gross), her scientific lecturing and punning father, we find out she's missing a hand (a heroine - a superhero- with a disability!), why she wants to be an astronaut, we find out what a space elevator is (note to self: must read Asminov's Fountains of Paradise for more science fiction space elevator geek happiness), we get to meet homeschool friend Luther, who I LOVE, and the beginning of the Maisie's character arc. (She has this belief that in order to succeed she must turn off all her emotions and become "Maisie robot." Which of course she completely fails at.) 

Here's a little excerpt where you get a feel for Maisie's mix of sharp wit and naivety:

Wilder looked at me leisurely before opening my folder. "Astrophysics in 2-C. That sounds like a party in a jar."

It did. If a party in a jar was a good thing. Would setting a party inside a glass container make it more amusing? Or was he being sarcastic?

"And you have Navigation in 4-F," I said, though he didn't ask.

"I can't just follow you to astrophysics? Sit in the back, pass you notes, sketch your profile on my desk?"

I was sure he was kidding. Almost sure. I should have done some homeschool projects on Teenage Social life or Boys in General.

Wilder did not follow me to astrophysics. I looked around a few times, just to be sure.

I was not a fan of Wilder. There was a very mild love triangle going on in this story, and I was definitely on Luther's side. Wilder didn't have much character and what he did have (the smooth talking) is something I've never liked or trusted: but he wasn't meant to be a trustworthy character. 

Another untrustworthy character I did like though was Bonnie Howell, eccentric billionaire, space developer, genius, and astronaut boot camp director. Here's her opening speech to the kids at boot camp:

"Your teenage brain is a work in progress. If you want big, beefy brains as adults, you must learn to organize your thoughts, control your impulses, and explore abstract concepts while you're still a teenager. Challenge ourselves, for pity's sake! By adulthood, any neglected areas in your brain will shut down. So sit back and stick to what you know, and you'll be condemned to flimsy, pathetic little pinatas, frozen in form with no hope of establishing the connections you ignored as teenagers. Okay?"

And she left the stage.

If Luther had been there, I would have whispered to him, "I give her an A for Brain Trivia, B for Bounciness, and D for Closure."

One of the things I loved about this book was how it combined all sorts of nerdy science stuff with dashes of poetry.  
"Poets seems to know things that scientists don't. And vice versa. Maybe they balance each other out somehow."

And this: 

"Poetry kind of reminds me of looking at things through a microscope." 
I didn't know what I was saying - I just started to talk. "I got a microscope when I turned six. You know, physicist mom, biologist dad. I examined things I thought I knew - a strand of my hair, a feather, and onion peel. Seeing them up close, they changed. I started to guess how, you know, things are more complicated than they seem, but that they have patterns, and the patterns are beautiful. Space has all those patterns and intricacies and mysteries, but not tiny under a microscope. So big, so expansive, when I think about it, I feel like the solid parts of me are dissolving and I'm out there in the blackness and light..."
...I wish I could explain better. NASA's next urgent mission should be to send good poets into space so they can describe what it's really like.

"'Stars, hide your fires,'" Jacques said, not looking down at Earth but out. "'Let not light see my black and deep desires.'"

He was quoting Macbeth, I was pretty sure. At least I wasn't the only apt-to-quote nerd aboard.

At first it's really not clear why  5 of the kids from the astronaut camp get picked to go up the space elevator into space and are given alien artifacts that produce superhero like powers in them... it feels a little fishy at first, but at the end it's all explained (I think it should have been explained sooner), and the ending is really pretty neat.  Meanwhile, there's a lot of chase scenes, a lot of trying to figure out who the real enemy is, and there's also a lot of violence, several deaths and a dismemberment (yikes... just thought y'all should know).  

There's also a "I'm not sure if I should love him or kill him" kind of romance going on, and there's a scene where Wilder tries to tempt Maisie into bed with him and she's VERY tempted but she turns him down. YES! SMART GIRL! 

Definitely a book for anyone who loves space, science nerdiness, superheros, lots of action, and a touch of poetry. 

I received a digital copy of Dangerous from Net Galley in exchange for my honest review. 

Oh, and see you tomorrow for Insecure Writer's Support Group!


  1. I LOVE Shannon Hale, but hadn't heard of this one~ I'll definitely add it to my list~ thanks for the review!

  2. My daughter and I loved Princess Diaries. We'll have to take a look at this one.

  3. Sounds like a fun read. I hadn't heard of this one.

  4. Why am I not reading this book RIGHT THIS MINUTE! Love Shannon Hale and space is my preferred escape location.


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