P.J. Hoover's The Emerald Tablet is the first book in a new middle grade science fiction series. The story begins with the enticing sentence:
"When Benjamin Holt saw his mom disappear into a pinprick of light, he shouldn't have been surprised; his life was already weird."
The reader rapidly learns that Benjamin and his best friend Andy communicate via telepathy, and that, despite living in the ordinary world, Benjamin and his younger brothers are all adept at telekinesis, too. Before he quite knows what's happening, Benjamin learns that he and Andy will both be attending summer school on the hidden continent of Lemuria (like Atlantis, only with more benevolent citizens). There they make friends, compete in subjects ranging from Science to Telegnosis, and, oh yes, learn that Benjamin has been prophesied to restore balance to the world.
There are, of course, echoes of the Harry Potter books in this description, but the feeling of The Emerald Tablet is much more futuristic science fiction than medieval castle fantasy. Rather than being wizards, Benjamin and Andy and their friends are Telegens, a sort of advanced race whose special skills are more a product of highly developed minds than "magic". The Emerald Tablet features lots of cool touches, like a girl whose hair changes color depending on her emotions, invisible walkways between buildings, and dehydrating chambers that dry you off after you've been out in the rain. There's also quite a bit of humor to middle school boy-girl interpersonal dynamics in the presence of mind-reading.
My favorite character is Benjamin and Andy's new friend Gary, who loves books. He says: "I like to read and re-read the actual books. I get more and more out of them each time I go through them." Benjamin doesn't really understand it, but I do. There are also two girls who are part of Benjamin's core group of friends (they form "an alliance" together): beautiful Iva and talented Heidi. All of the alliance kids are three-dimensional and likable, especially when they bicker.
The Emerald Tablet is a very appealing mix of adventure, speculative science fiction, and middle school camp drama. I enjoyed it as an adult, but I know that I would have adored it as an 11-year-old. In truth, ever since I finished it, The Emerald Tablet has been popping back into my head, as I wonder what's going to happen to Benjamin and his friends going forward. Highly recommended for later elementary and middle school readers, boys and girls, fans of traditional fantasy or not.
Publisher: Blooming Tree Press
Publication Date: October 21, 2008
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the author. Quotes are from the ARC, and may not mirror the final, printed text
Other Blog Reviews: Teens Read Too, Presenting Lenore, The Longstockings , Trainspotting Reads
Author Interviews: Book Review Maniac, Trainspotting Reads
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.