The Secrets of Star Whales by Rebecca Thorne
Publication Date : March 23rd 2021
Publisher : Jolly Fish Press
Genre : Middle Grade / Science Fiction
Pages : 228
On the small space station Azura, Maxion Belmont is constantly torn between his two passions—engineering and music. Both are hobbies handed down from his father, which is bittersweet since his death two years ago. While his hydrodriver is great for repairing starship parts, his father’s old string instrument tugs at the latent grief Max hides from his mom and classmates with each chord he strums.
When a foreign starship appears on the horizon, Azura welcomes their first tourist in years. Enter Mr. Hames, starship captain and space-brained traveler. But there’s something weird about the stranger-turned-substitute teacher. He has no idea how to teach and thinks enlisting a group of twelve-year-olds to become his starship “crew” is totally normal. Or maybe it’s the fact he keeps raving about the existence of alien creatures in the vacuum of space: star whales.
As Max and the rest of Mr. Hames’s class/crew uncover the mysteries of the star whales, they discover they aren’t the only ones looking for the elusive creatures—and not every whaler has good intentions. Confronted with questions about his own father’s history with the star whales, Max must decide how far he’ll go to understand not only his father, but also the boy he’s become since his death . . . even at the expense of the star whales themselves.
Early Praise for The Secrets of Star Whales:
“An engaging speculative fiction premise allows Thorne to simultaneously embrace a sense of wonder and discovery, imbuing this poignant story with optimism and healing.”—Publishers Weekly
“A futuristic setting, an excitingly illicit field trip, and a set of magnificent, mysterious MacGuffins add up to a
rare space adventure.”—Booklist
“A rollicking middle grade adventure with a subtle message about processing and expressing emotions, and
the traps that await those who allow their sadness to masquerade as anger.”—Foreword Reviews
** Disclaimer: I received e-copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to publisher and NetGalley. ***
The Secrets of Star Whales was heartwarming middle grade sci-fi that revolved around Max struggling with grief and loss and mystery of Star Whales. It was about getting over loss and grief, friendship, adventure, trust, secrets, loneliness, and believing in yourself.
Writing was lucid, vivid, fast paced and filled with imagination and emotions. It was first person narrative from Max’s POV. His voice was both entertaining and heartfelt. Setting of Azura Space station and its close-knit community added its own charm to story.
It started with Max introducing his life simple life on Azura, his family, people around him, and his classmates, how he filled the void of loss of his father with pranks and gossips with his best friend- India- and how everything changed on arrival of an outsider- Mr Hames- a substitute teacher who brought with him adventure and change he wasn’t ready for. At the same time, it gave him hope to find a connection with his dad again that can fill the void the loss had left behind. What he didn’t expect was making mistakes that caused lot of trouble not just for him but his home and beautiful mysterious creature of galaxy, Star Whales. It was interesting to read mystery of Star Whales, intentions of Mr Hames, seeing how Max would get out the huge mess he created, and how the adventure of Star Whales was going to change his life and perspective.
Meet interesting crew of Calypso – Mr Hames– quirky teacher and captain of Calypso. Tarynn– First officer, bossy and uptight and most mature of all. Rhett– designed clothes for crew. Arsenio– Medic of the spaceship. Nashira– communicator and queen of gossips who knew a lot about botanarium and microptera. Loisa– Nashira’s shy twin sister and brilliant hacker. India– Navigator and Max’s best friend and partner in crime. Max– Engineer, most important person of crew who also could play decivox- a guitar like instrument.
Max was smart, fun, relatable, and realistic character who struggled with grief of losing his dad two years ago in mine ship accident. His emotions were at the centre of the story. His behaviour and actions were unlikable and he came out as bad person because of it. But we could see and understand the reason behind it. His only crime was looking for a connection with his father, a way to fill the gaping void in his heart. Not talking about his feelings with anyone made him even more lost, lonely, angry, and confusing. I could see myself making even worse mistakes being an adult in his situation while he was just 12 years old. I was surprised no adults talked to him about sharing his feeling that it’s okay to cry and let out his emotions until near the end of the book. His guilt, regrets and being on the receiving end of anger and hate of his classmate because of his mistakes was heartfelt. I loved how he developed and tried to make things right at the end.
All secondary characters were interesting. It was interesting read about their skills, quirks and how they too developed along with Max. I also enjoyed reading about their parents and how they too had role to play in story.
Best part of the book was world. It was interesting to read about Azura spaces station, its close-knit community, how Azurans loved and thrived on gossips, what made their space station unique, and its uniqueness. All the descriptions of technology, spaceships, creatures and imaginative places of galaxy was amazing to read. Story of Star Whales and their description was marvellous. I loved all chapters including those mesmerising, intelligent behemoth creatures. There weren’t any unnecessary details and was easy to understand by young and middle grade readers.
I liked the layers and message about grief, greed, self-reflection, ecosystem of galaxy, importance of imagination and creativity. I could see twist and turns coming. Climax was tense and filled with adventure. I loved how Max got of huge trouble using his skills and apologised for his behaviour. End was perfectly feel-good and uplifting.
Overall, The Secrets of Star Whales was lovely, heartfelt, well written middle grade sci-fi set in amazing world with quirky and delightful characters.
The wild Rebecca Thorne can be found in her natural habitat: the local coffee shop. She is rarely more than an arms-length from her laptop and her “Becky’s” coffee mug. When not in pursuit of caffeine or cracking puns as a flight attendant for Southwest, she prefers to relax with her two dogs, ensconced in her butt-cloud beanbag sofa. Find her online at rebeccathorne.net.
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