Kate Messner's Eye of the Storm is set in a near-term (~2050) future America in which frequent, dangerous storms have changed the way people live. Children don't play outside; they play in indoor playgrounds located deep underground. Everyone has safe rooms in their homes, and there are safety lots located every 15 miles along the major highways. Farming is a dying occupation (because the storms keep destroying things). Most people eat artificially created fruits and vegetables ("DNA-ture").
The man behind much of this new technology is Stephen Meggs, brilliant, wealthy, and powerful. But to 12-year-old Jaden, he's just the Dad she hasn't seen in four years. When Jaden is sent to spend the summer with her father in Placid Meadows, a special community guaranteed to be safe from storms, she looks forward to meeting her new stepmother and baby half-sister. She's also excited to be attending the prestigious Eye on Tomorrow science camp that her father's company runs. But what she doesn't expect is to uncover life-changing secrets about her father, or to find herself in a race for her very life.
The storm-plagued world that Kate Messner builds in Eye of the Storm is disturbingly plausible. Thinking about this book will make a little chill climb up your spine as you read about the latest band of tornados to hit the mid-west. The adults in the book can remember what it was like when a moderate storm was national news, but the kids have always lived within reach of storm cellars. The other changes in technology seem relatively minor. People drive hydrogen-powered vehicles instead of using gas, printed books are a rarity, and computers are a bit more advanced than they are today. But most of the societal changes in are due to the weather. People spend a lot of time at home.
Here are a couple of snippets, to give you a feel for the worldview (and Jaden's voice):
(Referring to the safe lots along the highways) They're like the Revolutionary War-era taverns I learned about in my online history course, spaced fifteen miles apart because that's how far a traveler could ride in a day. Here was are 275 years later, driving hydrogen vehicles instead of horses, and we're back to needing shelter every fifteen miles." (Page 2)
"Riding a bicycle was something I thought was gone forever. Something future kids would hear about in stories from the old times, before the earth's average temperature grew so warm, before the atmosphere became so unstable, so friendly to huge storms. I thought bikes were gone, like hikes in the woods and picnics that aren't in the backyard. Somehow, Dad's company has found a way to give those things back to people." (Page 23)
Jaden is a plausible character. Resentful of her distant father, even as she strives for his attention. Struggling with doing what's right, when there's personal risk involved (but of course coming through in the end). Afraid when it makes sense to be afraid. And smart, smart, smart. Nice to read about a girl who is not ashamed of being bright, and maintains only a touch of cynicism.
The thing that I liked best about Eye of the Storm, though, was the focus on science. More specifically, the focus on kids working on, and valuing, science. In a world in which the future of society depends upon figuring out a way to stop the storms (and ways to protect people from them), kids who are good at science are the ones who are cool. I like that Jaden and her friends enjoy solving technical problems, and developing and testing hypotheses.
The final section of Eye of the Storm is quite intense (one can picture the movie), as Jaden and her friends outrace the storm of a lifetime. I read that part quite quickly, turning the pages eagerly to find out what happened next. I think that kids in late elementary school and middle school, boys and girls, will find Eye of the Storm compelling.
As an adult reader, I did sense the faintest whiff of agendas on the part of the author (environmentalism, pro-science/education). But Messner maintains a very light hand (the second quote above is about as overt as this gets). And, as I said, I'm happy to see a book for kids in which pure science plays a central role. Truth be told, Eye of the Storm's storm-tossed world feels eerily prescient. Only time will tell. Meanwhile, libraries should definitely scoop this one up. I would expect Eye of the Storm to fly off the shelves.
Publisher: Walker Children's Books (@bwkids)
Publication Date: February 28, 2012
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).