(Note: This review contains spoilers.)
The Starflower left Earth seven years ago, carrying Christians who had been persecuted for their Christian faith and threatened by possible nuclear attack from the east. With only a few memories of Earth, Rejoice Holly has lived on the spaceship for most of her life. When she finally arrives on New Earth, she struggles to find her place. She is expected to be a farmer’s wife, but her most passionate desire is to be an astronomer, though this is deemed a useless profession by the colony. Allowed to use a telescope, Rejoice discovers an asteroid—which is, of course, set to destroy her new home.
And this will not be disastrous just for the humans. The native species of New Earth, the hexacrabs, cannot survive another asteroid.
On the whole, Leila Rose Foreman’s “Shatterworld” is an entertaining read. Foreman masterfully creates her planet and the alien race who inhabit it, the hexacrabs. Somewhat similar to jellyfish, the hexacrabs are intelligent tentacled creatures. When the colony discovers the hexacrabs and begin attempting to communicate, the new relationship is engrossing. Different cultures intertwine as the creatures trade and talk with the humans and each species learns about the other. Foreman uses beautiful imagery to help the colonists translate complex ideas to the aliens. For instance, space, as one man describes it, is a sea above the sky.
Meanwhile, the tensions within the Holly family and the stresses they face, though caused by issues we might not be familiar with, are meaningful and realistic. Stronghold, Rejoice’s older brother, seems to face depression. He is bitterly angry with his parents for bringing him to New Earth. He lashes out several times, abandons his faith, and even thinks of suicide. But by the end of the book, he finds his place and realizes the pain he has caused his family. He accepts his position and his calling and grows to love his family again. The growth of Stronghold’s character is very deep and hopeful.
Although there are many beautiful and interesting elements in the book, it seems to be missing something. The major conflict of the book (the asteroid) is introduced awkwardly late in the book and very quickly resolved—by a 13-year-old girl. While the book is science fiction, many details like this seem too far-fetched to be taken seriously. The translation device used to talk to the hexacrabs, for example, is invented far too quickly. Everything in the book moves a little too fast; there is very little indication that much time has passed between significant events.
Additionally, there are a few short chapters that showcase the thoughts of the aliens. While initially interesting, these chapters break up the action. And though these chapters crucially show the “humanity” and intelligence of these creatures, the terminology they use is confusing rather than enlightening.
The Christian elements of the story, while interesting, also seem oddly disconnected from the rest of the book. Rejoice and her brother do not have a solid foundation of belief: All they know is that their parents are Christian. Thus, the traditional Christian elements of the book, in stark contrast to the technology and futuristic atmosphere, seem very much annoying and out of place. This could be made into a successful juxtaposition, but the way it was actually done here left me unsatisfied.
There is also little to no mention of the moral question of colonizing space. Yes, the colonists feel called to their decision to migrate, and the book ultimately gives them an important purpose on the planet. While reading, however, I could not help but think of C.S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy and the questions it raises. Is it moral to attempt to continue the human race on other planets, or might it be, as Lewis argues, immoral and even arrogant? Exploring this question could have added more profound meaning to the book. However, the end of the book leaves us wondering not whether the characters will think on this moral question, but whether they will succeed in preventing the asteroid from destroying New Earth.
“Shatterworld” is the first in a projected trilogy by Foreman. Despite the book’s flaws, I very much look forward to finding out what happens to Rejoice and discovering more of this intriguing planet and its inhabitants. I believe the middle-school readers at whom the book is targeted will enjoy them too.
Image copyright Written World Communications. Review copy courtesy of the author.
Samantha Van Slyke is a student at Grove City College.