Thursday, February 4, 2016

Under Their Skin

Under Their Skin
Margaret Peterson Haddix
Simon & Schuster, 2015  311 pgs
Grades 4-7
Science Fiction/Adventure

Nick and Eryn are typical twelve-year-old twins, who live in a small town with divorced, yet amicable, parents. Their lives are shaken up when Mom decides to remarry. Expecting Michael's two children to also move in, they are surprised to discover that their new step siblings (also twelve-year-old twins) will only be staying at the house when Nick and Eryn are at their father's; neither set of twins ever meeting. This peaks the curiosity of Nick and Eryn and they concoct a secret plan to meet Jackson and Ava, the secret step sibs. The reason for the separation is creepier than Nick and Eryn imagined: Jackson and Ava are actually robot children. They dash home to confront their mother and try to get answers. Instead they discover another nasty surprise: Mom is also a robot. In fact, everyone over the age of twelve is a robot. The world experienced some sort of dystopian end, eliminating humans. Robots were designed to take over and raise frozen embryos left behind to continue the human race. Jackson and Ava should have been destroyed once the human children turned twelve, but their parents are illegally keeping them functioning. Once Nick and Eryn discover the truth, the whole extended family escapes in a van to find a place to hide. Nick and Eryn still have questions: What actually destroyed the human race and what can they do to prevent it from happening again? A secret bunker leads the twins to these answers, but a creepy epilogue dangles a new plot twist, leading the reader to the yet-to-be-released sequel in this two-part series.

When authors speak to groups the most common question they are asked is, "where do you get your ideas?" I usually roll my eyes when I hear that question asked yet again at author events. That said, if I ever had the pleasure to meet Margaret Peterson Haddix I would ask her just that. I love her books. They are what I call "concept books": amazing concepts that no one else has thought of and are easy sells to kids. Running Out of Time is a book I use with book discussion groups on a regular rotation because it has such a cool plot and leaves the reader with much to chew on. The Shadow Children series as well as the Missing series are huge hits at my library. Under Their Skin is sure to also be a hit with young readers. This book is not only a great idea that is timely and will intrigue tweens, but reads fast and will be a natural choice for reluctant readers. The action never stops, nor do the plot twists, making the book impossible to put down. Nick and Eryn take turns narrating the story, alternating chapter seamlessly. Although they are twins and can communicate in twin-speak, their personalities are distinct and they each bring a fresh perspective to the plot. Haddix raises themes such as the threat of technology taking over human society, the importance of divorced parents cooperating for the good of the children, and the right to question the establishment. Nick and Eryn feel frustration that the adults in their lives are not being fully honest with them and they take matters into their own hands,claiming power over their own lives. Its a great idea that will encourage young readers to look at the older people in their lives with a discerning eye, questions "could they be...?"

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