It's true. This is not my usual book fare. At all.
But I am a devoted Shannon Hale fan. So I figured if she could branch out and write something that's a little out of the box for her, I guess I could branch out and read it.
Maisie Danger Brown's name was a bit of a joke. Her parents were just planning on giving her a middle name of Amalia (after her grandmother), but then they thought about how funny it would be to say, "Danger is my middle name" and have it be true.
But up to this point, Maisie's life has been anything but dangerous; "sheltered" would be a better description. She was born without her right hand, and so her two scientist parents decided to homeschool her. She has no brothers or sisters and, apart from Luther, almost no friends.
But things begin to pick up when she sees an announcement on the back of a cereal box telling about a chance to win a three-week stay at Howell Astronaut Boot Camp. Maisie has always been fascinated by space, so she enters the contest and, of course, wins.
The camp is everything she could have hoped for (even more, since she somehow secured the attention of popular Jonathan Wilder). At the end of the three weeks, it is announced that her team has the highest overall score and therefore wins a chance to fly to the equator and see the launch of the space elevator.
Somehow these five teenagers convince the two directors to allow them to ride to the halfway point where they get implanted with supernatural alien tokens that will help them save the world.
. . . wait, what?
No, seriously, that's what happens. I knew it was going to be science fiction, but I was not prepared for pink floaty aliens.
To be honest, the whole thing started out a little gimmicky for me. A sweepstakes on the back of a cereal box? (Do 15-year-olds really enter such things? Or only sheltered, nerdy, and homeschooled teenagers?) A missing right hand? A fast and furious teenage romance?
But I was overlooking all of that until the alien tokens made their appearance, and then I just about walked away right then and there. But this is Shannon Hale we're talking about. And like I said, I'm devoted. So I kept reading.
And you know what, after awhile the missing arm no longer seemed like a contrived weakness. It seemed substantive and believable and, honestly, pretty awesome.
And after a while longer, the romance hashed itself out and deepened into something that at least somewhat resembled a mature relationship.
And there even came a point when I no longer laughed at the thought of the kind of book I was reading. Who knew aliens and supernatural powers and saving the world could be so gripping?
(However, I never did get over the fact that the whole story began with a cereal sweepstakes.)
As far as I know (and someone correct me if I'm wrong), Dangerous is a standalone novel, which I appreciated more than I can possibly say (and which honestly seems quite unusual for young adult novels these days). I know Shannon Hale originally said it would be a trilogy, but that was back in 2010, and I can't find anything else that concurs with that statement. But regardless of what happens down the road, the book is a complete story in and of itself. And this is one reader who is so grateful to read all of the lead-up, the action, and the resolution in one succinct novel without any of it feeling rushed or brushed over. Well done.
Also, overall it's pretty clean, but surprisingly, I had some issues with that. Maisie and Wilder tread dangerously close to the edge (pun not intended), and if it had been Wilder's decision, they would have gone right over. But Maisie holds her ground and says, "When you kiss me, my brain stops working. I don't want to make a choice without my brain. And if I cease to be rational, then I've lost myself."
In this, and other areas, Maisie showed herself a strong, responsible, and smart heroine. I loved her for it.
But . . .
I have to wonder what message this is sending to teens: you can get this close to the line; you can almost touch it; you just have to stay in control and not lose your head. As if! Maybe some teenagers have that much willpower, but they're not the teens I know.
I guess I was disappointed because I feel like Shannon Hale probably kept it clean on purpose but may still have sent teens a damaging message.
Moving on . . .
Let's talk about the humor in this book, shall we? Given the plot, this could have been a fairly heavy and dark book, and certainly there were some such moments--there were a fair number of deaths and some parts took a rather violent turn. However, Shannon Hale's humor was always lurking just around the corner to lighten up the mood before the next round of action. Here is one of my favorite quotes, taken out of context but still funny I think:
"Day two I was swimming deep, feeling weightless and strange, when I was knocked hard in the side. Silver against black water, a dorsal fin sharp as a blade, it circled and came back. Adrenaline flared in my heart. Shark! Big, toothy, scary shark! Then I remembered who I was. And I ate it."Another thing I really loved about this book was that it kept me guessing who was (and was not) trustworthy. I hate it when authors introduce a supposedly loyal and kind character (sometimes a mentor, sometimes a friend), and then, bam, at the end they turn out to be the sleezy villain. Not fair. But in this case, there was give and take through the whole book with multiple characters. They would do something honorable and then something disappointing, which made them seem that much more real and also kept me engaged as a reader so that I always felt a little on edge and cautious.
Going into it, I didn't think this would become my favorite Shannon Hale novel, and it's not. But it was funny, fast-paced, and original (all things I've come to expect from her), and so I was not disappointed.