Friday, February 8, 2013

The Phoenix Files: Arrival by Chris Morphew

It's bad enough when Luke's parents get divorced; it's worse when his mom accepts a job in the middle of nowhere and drags him off to Phoenix. She's excited about a brand new start, but Luke just wants to stay at his school, with his friends, and most of all near his dad.

Then they arrive at Phoenix. It's a brand-new town in the outback of Australia and everything is shiny new...except there's no cell phone reception, no internet, and no tv. The school seems just like everything other school; there's a class clown called Peter who offers to show Luke around and a nice enough girl named Jordan, who seems to have some history with Peter.

But some things seem a Why is Luke's the last locker? Why are there no cars? Why, in the middle of nowhere, does a brand-new town have a strange homeless man called Crazy Bill? When a mysterious tape, hinting at dangerous conspiracies, is given to the three, they start investigating and turn up what seems to be a conspiracy to end the world and start fresh with the people in the town of Phoenix. They can't trust anyone; not their parents, the other kids who seem to have secrets of their own, or the adults who are in the power of the lethal head of security, Calvin. Even Crazy Bill, who at first seems to be helping them, turns out to be dangerous and his strange powers are frightening.

I thought the description of this sounded interesting; I'm always up for a good adventure story, as are my middle school readers, but it turned out to be, well, rather boring. Most of the story is spent hinting at possible conspiracies and even the few exciting things that do happen (Luke's run-in with Crazy Bill, discovering the giant warehouse) are written in a flat "and then this happened" way that makes them, well, boring. The author also interjects language like "crap" but they don't feel like genuine dialogue, more like "this is how teens talk, time to put in another mild swearword". I figured out the hints right away and so there wasn't much suspense left for the rest of the book. There's also no character development to make up for the lack of actual action. We know that there's something going on with Peter and the other kids, that Jordan is a risk-taker, and that Luke misses his dad, but we don't really get a sense of who they are as teens. It's almost 300 pages of build-up and just when it actually starts to get interesting, it ends.

Verdict: I think the sequels probably are more interesting and if you stick to it until about 2/3 of the way through it heats up a little, but my readers of end-of-the-world conspiracy adventures are not going to stick with it that long. If they had taken the language out and cut it down a bit it would be a perfectly good choice for older middle grade. An additional purchase if you have kids who don't mind the slow build-up - but if you do decide to buy it, you need to buy the sequels simultaneously to get the whole story. There are three books of a planned six-book series out now.

ISBN: 9781610670913; Published June 2012 by Kane Miller Books; Review copy provided by the publisher

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