Martin Maple and his dad live alone on an island. Mr. Maple spends all his time building a mysterious machine that he says will bring hope. When the machine is almost done, he rows off to the mainland to bring back the final piece. He never returns, nor do the vacationers who come to the island every summer. Martin heads for the mainland himself to figure out what’s happened and find his father. He finds that everyone in the world is gone except for a small group of kids who’ve all come to a small town now called Xibalba. (“Pronounced with a ‘sh-‘ as in, ‘Who gives a Xibalba?'”)
This is a weird, amazing, amazingly weird book. The clearest analog I have is Lost. If you loved Lost (never mind the ending), you will probably love this. It’ll probably get classified as middle grade, but there’s a body count, and we aren’t distanced from it (though it’s certainly not on the level of, say, Hunger Games). But mostly it’s just plain creepy, in that way that things can get when kids who don’t have enough context or understanding end up in charge of making very serious decisions for a society.
The ending (while better than Lost’s) doesn’t entirely hold together, I think. Don’t try to fit it together too precisely. But it works well enough, with some wonderful “Ohhh, that’s what that was about!” moments. The world-building — from overall mood to inventive detail — are incredible enough to make up for any, “Wait, but why didn’t they-“s.
It’ll be a love it or hate it book for most kids (this one hated it, on Aaron Starmer’s blog), I think. I predict it’ll be a tough one to find a home for. This is definitely not a book for kids who look for the straightforward or linear, and that is most of them in the 10-14 range that I think is the target audience. But the kids who love Lord of the Flies, or the timeslip parts of When You Reach Me — get those kids to give it a try.