The Disasters is an enthusiastic exploration of teenage underdogs trying to find their place in a universe that is intent on discarding the rejects. Add a diverse cast of characters, tense action scenes, high stakes, and the complicated mess of emotions that are teenage hormones, and you’ve got a perfect young adult sci-fi adventure. M. K. England sets up a unique and brilliant world of Earth and space in the year 2194. Space travel is a constant, there are hundreds of fully-functioning colonies, and Earth has a strict no-return policy.
Hotshot Earth boy, Nax Hall, has a history of poor life choices and a shoddy criminal record, but he’s ready to rule the school—until he’s rejected from the Academy in less than 24 hours. But when his one-way trip back to Earth is cut short by a surprise terrorist attack on the Academy, Nax must get the word out about the biggest crime in the universe—alongside three other washouts. This ramshackle team are the only witnesses to wholesale slaughter—and the perfect troublemakers to pin the whole thing on. On the run from the government, Nax and the rest of his unfortunate crew must stay alive long enough to get the word out to the rest of the universe, and it’ll take the biggest heist any of them have ever pulled to get through it.
I’m a sucker for books about dysfunctional found-family, and this book delivers. England builds a fascinating world, then plops five teens into the best and worst times of their lives. This diverse cast of enthusiastic, pure disasters is instantly gripping, and achingly familiar. Throughout this book, you get to do one of my favorite things: root for the underdog. This group of teens, thrown together through less-than-ideal circumstances, make up a team that can’t help but grab your heart and steal you along for their adventure.
Nax Hall, the young, attractive, hotshot pilot, is openly bi. Readers get to sympathize with teenage hormones and unfortunate timing, quickly-developed crushes, and lots of inconvenient emotions as Nax recognizes his attraction to other members of his crew and reminisces on past relationships. And in another scene, one of his crew is revealed to be trans (with a sad, real connection to our own current events). She is a brilliant, kick-ass character, and was definitely my favorite.
Nax’s crew is made up on Case, the engineering wiz, Zee, the high-kicking medic, and Rion, the slightly-posh and roguishly handsome smooth talker. Along the way, they meet up with Asra, who promises to get them a ship if they can just help her steal it. And I love every single one of them. These characters are unique, flawed, and undeniably interesting. Each one is brilliant, if atypical, and make up a crew that patches each other’s cracks and works well together.
Mental health representation also gets a solid nod here. This book deals with anxiety, PTSD, and (very realistic) panic attacks. Take care of yourself while reading! Nax and another of his crew both have mental health issues that they deal with in very different ways, and both are written out clearly across the page from refreshingly honest perspectives.
In a universe where space travel is normal, and coming back to Earth after you’ve been to a colony is illegal, there is a lot of room for creative world building. England takes us easily through familiar scenery to fantastic new worlds, describing sanctioned and unsanctioned colonies that inhabit every corner of space. From rust-red beaches to deadly space stations, England gives beautiful descriptions of fantastic, realistic places. Add in high-tech devices like spaceships, face-changers, and chem-guns, and you’ve got a budding setting for just the right space adventure. The crew, their actions, and the setting remind me of Star Trek a great deal, in all the good ways. And if you’re a fan of Firefly or Guardians of the Galaxy, this book is definitely for you.
Nax and his crew promise to find a spot at the top of your TBR pile this winter. Even better: since it releases on December 18, it makes the perfect last-minute gift for any loved ones this holiday season! The Disasters is a great read that might just set up a sequel, if you look hard enough! I, for one, would love to read more about these amazing characters and their continued adventures. See you in space!
M. K. England
Releases December 18, 2018