Considering the continuing popularity of the Star Wars franchise among young people today, it’s a wonder that science fiction as a literary genre isn’t in much demand at school libraries. It should be, and as a fan of all forms of sci-fi, I have a few choice selections to encourage the children at my school to try. Starbounders just got added to my list.

Jay Epstein and Andrew Jacobson, the award-winning authors of the fantasy series The Familiars, have created a story in which Earth is pretty much the same as it is now, it’s just that there is a secret galactic force that protects us from alien invasion and works with other alien races to keep the peace. How do people end up serving on that force? Well, first they have to go to a special, secret school, of course.

Zachary Night gets to go because his father and mother went, and his grandfather and his great-grandfather. . . . The pressure to succeed weighs on Zachary and he’s not sure he can be as great as his forebears. He’s pretty sure he has messed up badly when he gets sent on a space freighter to do clean-up duty as punishment for breaking the rules. Zachary’s two friends, Kaylee and the alien Ryic, are also being punished, and together the three of them find that cleaning the deck of a freighter that’s been sabotaged is more excitement than they bargained for.

This very fast-paced book is full of everything a sci-fi adventure should have: a wide variety of strange aliens, space ships, cool equipment and a great story that transcends its genre. The science can get a bit iffy in places, but not in a way that a young reader would notice.  Readers of all ages will love Zach and his ability to think fast on his feet.

Readers who don’t think they like science fiction should try Starbounders. Trust me, this is the book you’re looking for.

Jennifer Bruer Kitchel is the librarian for a pre-K through 8th grade Catholic school in Nashville.

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