Children's books and book reviews - reading resource for kids, teachers, librarians, parents

Young adult book reviews for ages 12 and up - middle school and high school students

*Xodus (The Astralis Series, Book 1)* by K.J. McPike- young adult book review  
Xodus (The Astralis Series, Book 1)
by K.J. McPike
Ages 14+ 388 pages Terracotta Rose Publishing September 2015 Paperback    

K.J. McPike’s debut novel, Xodus, is largely a success. Through McPike’s lyrical prose, it is all too easy to truly sink into the world created around 16-year-old Lali. It is the sort of tale that one can enjoy daydreaming over long after the final pages have been turned.

Months before her sweet 16th, Lali’s mother leaves the family with no notice, only a simple note. From that night on, she isn't heard from again. Feeling pained, childish, fearful, hopeful, Lali sits up cold and alone on the night before her birthday, wishing her mother might appear for their birthday ritual.

As the eldest of five, she spends the morning after trying to convince herself that the horrors of the night were simply nightmares. She couldn’t have seen, heard anything. Lali moves about the kitchen without thought, helping with duties as the stand-in for her mother, helping her siblings ready for school.

At school, she begins to slowly grasp that her "nightmare" wasn't a dream at all when she gets a glimpse of the man with a scar in daylight and falls into another terror-filled vision. The nurse tells her that she has fainted, after what looked to be a small seizure. Poor Lali feels very afraid and even more confused. While she waits for her father to arrive, she's begun to convince herself that she's schizophrenic. On the way to the doctor, her father reluctantly shares--after Lali presses to find out if her mother had any “issues”--that, once a long time ago, her mother had told Lali’s scientist of a father that she was capable of astral projection.

She thinks to herself, "Was it possible I'd inherited some supernatural ability? Or you just inherited delusions of grandeur." Then her father reminds Lali about the bedtime stories her mother used to tell: The Adventures of Astralis, of a girl who could go anywhere with her mind. What if it was real, what is her mom’s tale were not only bedtime stories... "What if she wasn't the only one?" Is it possible that everything she saw the night before--the man with the scar screaming at a red-haired woman, brandishing a gun? The vision of this terrifying moment is seared into her memory: "He lowered his head until his hooked nose almost touched the freckles on hers." What if this scar-faced, hook-nosed, gun-toting man has her mother? That has to be why she left!

Now that Lali suspects the truth about her mother leaving, she is sure she could find a way to help her, to bring her home. The trick, she discovers, is how. After reading about on the internet in the middle of the night, and then attempting, astral travel, she sinks into frustration and anger and further fear for her mother and family. Then new boy Kai kidnaps her--to her disgust, right from the girls' room at school. To a beach--poof! To a beach at night!

Between her mother leaving, Kai's revelations, and the responsibilities heaped upon her--dinner, laundry, dishes, homework help, bedtime duties--it's not surprising that Lali might begin to crack around the edges. She feels terribly guilty lying to her friends and family, but she feels she has no choice but to learn from Kai's pushy offer of "astral travel boot camp". It doesn't help that she doesn't trust him or that he's angry at the world. As she learns more about him, she finds it difficult to stay angry.

While learning to travel, Lali has one emotional shock after another, and--for better or worse--through this series of shocks, she begins to think of Kai as an ally if not friend. It is then, on the beach that Kai likes, that she starts to learn the story, the history, and perhaps the real reason her mother left. Through Kai, Lali learns that traveling comes through genes. More interesting is how different each traveler is, how it manifests, and the history of the gift. Learning to control her talent, even with a guide, proves difficult.

And then she gets caught. Everything pales under the anger of a father who doesn't believe in you, siblings who mock, and lifelong friends who abandon. Very gradually, Kai becomes her only confidant, friend, partner-in-hope. "I've never had faith in anyone as I have in you." That is Kai's heartfelt encouragement to Lali, after she fails over and over.

As the story deepens, things--scary things--began to dawn on Lali as she uses her newfound powers to snoop. Her world begins to spiral even further out of control, sucking her siblings into it. And she knows now that, sweet, romantic and encouraging as he seems, that Kai is involved and out for himself. It appears that she isn't the only one who doesn't trust Kai's uncle, the big, scary Cade. As things continue to spiral even more impossibly, Lali has no idea who to trust or what to do. While she is still determined to find her mother, things become more and more scary: her whole family is in the line of fire.

The details, both physical--like feeling the icy floor through thin socks or the popping noise that a cord makes when pulled hard from the socket--and emotional details--like biting one's own tongue to feel something other than a broken heart, to ache for a beloved ritual, goofy familial nicknames--the details are what really makes Xodus. There is humor to offset the angst and fear:
Waking up the next morning was I'd been thrown against a brick wall. Repeatedly. By the Hulk.
The tongue-in-cheek whining is somewhat reminiscent of something Harry Dresden might say while griping. The descriptive terms to explain what projecting feels like to Lali are very interesting--particularly as she learns to move through solid formations. The word-paintings of the other world are easy to fall into, easy to close ones eyes and visualize, easy to look around. From the ground to the trees to the sky, it is different, not crazily so but just different enough to be fun, interesting, and to make Lali wonder how her mother felt about the differences between Astralis and her Earth.

In the beginning, the names chosen are downright odd, and a little annoying. Every one of the five children in this family has an X in their name, some in place of an S, some just... Strange. However, each of the X-kids have their own unique oddities, right from the beginning. Xitlali being the main character. (Xitlzali?!- no teen wants to be mistaken for the bane of teenager-dom!) Allowing them personalities makes unusual names forgivable. Almost. Last name Yavari. Oxanna. Salaxia. Ulyxses and Dixon. (Also, a note to readers: there is a pronunciation guide at the end of the book, which maybe should be at the beginning, lest we think her name is ZIT-lali. It isn't.)

The only really questionable bit is Jessica. Her oddities are brought up so often that it feels like good ol'fashioned English class-style foreshadowing. Will something happen with her later?

While Xodus has a very satisfying ending, there are so many more questions to be answered. Here's hoping that this is the beginning of a nice, long, twisty series in which we learn more about the Astrallii people, history and dreaded government, see more of Lali and Kai, and rescue more. It is one heck of a first book, K.J. McPike. (It counts!)
Young adult book reviews for ages 12 and up - middle school and high school students

click here to browse children's board book reviews
click here to browse children's picture book reviews
click here to browse young readers book reviews
click here to browse young readers book reviews
click here to browse young adult book reviews
click here to browse parenting book reviews
web reviews
  Carolynn Evans/2016 for curled up with a good kid's book  

For grown-up fiction, nonfiction and speculative fiction book reviews,
visit our sister site Curled Up With a Good Book (