The Stars Beyond the Mesa by Pete A. O’Donnell is a Mid-Grade Sci-Fi novel and has features that you would expect in a mid-grade novel – short chapters and a lot of action to hold the reader’s attention. The story revolves around five children, ages 12-17, living at a remote, top secret scientific compound. They are the children of the scientists working at the compound. As they are children, the scientists, their parents, try to keep them from knowing that something has gone horribly wrong and they are all in danger. There is a lot of action and mystery.
The whole story takes place in about three days, so there is a lot of action to move the story along that quickly. But the novel also has plenty to offer the older reader – great character development for one. Using only a few words each time one of the main characters is involved in the action the reader can see that character’s qualities and flaws. One sees the basics first – Ben is impulsive, Katy is rebellious, Alex is angry; but then more information is given and you understand where each character is coming from and what has gone on before that makes them impulsive, angry or rebellious. Then more things happen and the reader can see that character grow: Alex isn’t just angry, he is brave and driven, concerned about doing the right thing, at first doing it his way and then growing so that he’ll accept help from another. Each of the children’s characters develops in this way.
Even as an adult reader, I enjoyed this book immensely. Pete cleverly leaves you hanging at the end of each chapter so that you have to turn the page to find out what happens next. Each chapter focuses on the action surrounding a single character or two or three characters, so when the chapter ends the reader not only needs to know what happens next in that situation, but also what happens to the other characters who are having separate adventures.
I have to say unreservedly that this book is very well written with an engaging story and characters and a mid-grade reader who is interested in stories about science, Sci-Fi, adventure, action and mystery, not to mention stories that are a little scary, would enjoy this. I plan on buying a copy for my 12-year-old grandson, who isn’t a big reader, but would enjoy this story. I believe a great story is the best way to turn a non-reader into a reader and this novel should do just that.