Sunday 25 October 2015

#CBR7 Book 106: "Darlah - 172 timer på månen" (172 hours on the Moon) by Johan Harstad

Page count: 376 pages
Rating: 3 stars

NASA announces a historic lottery to help fund their new lunar expedition. Teens of between the ages 14 to 18 can sign up, and three lucky someones will be selected to train with the astronauts and come along on for a trip to the Moon. There is already a moon base they can stay at, DARLAH 2, established in the early 1970s for research and observation, but never actually used, for reasons the higher ups with the right security clearance would prefer not to answer. The same goes for questions about what the fate of DARLAH 1 was. There is an old, senile man in a quiet nursing home, who used to be a maintenence worker at Area 51. He sees the news broadcasts about the lottery and the upcoming lunar expedition and something inside him is screaming in terror. No one must return to the Moon, the lunar expedition is a terrible idea! Unfortunately, his illness is far enough advanced that he can't actually voice his thoughts and fears to anyone, and explain why another mission to the Moon may be disastrous.

The three teens who are selected are Mia from Norway, who plays in an all-girl post punk rock band, mainly acts stroppy towards her well-meaning parents. The only one she seems patient and nice to is her mentally disabled younger brother. She doesn't actually want to join the lottery, and is incredibly upset when she discovers that her parents signed her up. When it turns out that she's been picked out of the millions who signed up, her band mates are the ones to persuade her to finally go.

Antoine from Paris signs up for the lottery after his girlfriend dumps him and he wants to be anywhere else. He's very interested in historical planes, and develops worrying stalkerish tendencies where he goes up to the Eiffel Tower to use the binoculars there to spy into his ex-girlfriend's bedroom window. By the time the kids have completed their NASA training, he and Mia seem to have fallen for each other.

Japanese Midori doesn't feel like she fits in with most of her peers, and spends most of her free time making costumes, hanging out with other social outcasts in the Harajuku area of Tokyo. Her biggest dream is to leave Japan, like her older sister who moved to London. When she's picked for the lottery, she hopes to be able to persuade her parents to let her stay in the US after the lunar mission.

All three teens experience mysterious and ominous events before the arrive for their training with NASA. Antoine sees a plane apparently crashing into the ocean; Midori and her parents can't seem to find the correct gate at the airport and a ghostly voice in a rest room tells Midori not to leave Japan; Mia meets a strange homeless man in Central Park with strange writing on the back on his hoodie.

Darlah, or 172 Hours on the Moon was awarded several literary prizes in 2008, when it was first published and in 2014 it was voted the best Norwegian young adult of all time by a panel of teenage readers and book journalists. The book certainly seems to appeal to a lot of the teens I teach, especially the girls (because sadly, most of the teenage boys in our school don't read unless they're forced to). One of the girls in my current class said it "made me look at reading in a completely new way" and I couldn't really refuse to read the book after an endorsement like that.

What I liked:
- The actual premise of the book
- Midori seemed like a perfectly nice character
- The NASA astronauts were cool
- Mia's family were nice (the other two teen's parents may as well not have existed for all the time the book spends on them)
- The slowly increasing tension and growing feeling of unease in the book
- The clever ways in which the book plays with genre conventions. There are a lot of fun pop culture references. 

What I disliked:
- The book has a very slow start. Far too much time is spent with the teenagers before the results of the lottery are revealed, mostly dwelling on details that have nothing to do with events that become relevant later. The book would have been more engaging if it got to the point faster.
- Mia really isn't a very likable character. She appears like a spoiled, ungrateful brat and I didn't really see why her friends wanted to spend time with her or why her parents didn't just tell her to snap out of her sulk. The slow beginning of the book just emphasises these negative qualities.
- Antoine's stalker tendencies. This is another way in which the lengthy unneccessary exposition at the beginning was more detrimental than beneficial. If so much time hadn't been spent on showing Antoine and Mia as dislikable, I would have been more engaged with their budding relationship later in the book as well.
- The horror aspect of the book. I had not realised that this book was both a sci-fi AND a horror novel. The horror was very well done, but I'm a big ol' wuss and it just made me uncomfortable.

I don't want to reveal too much more about the book, because that would spoil the story and it's best to go into the book without knowing too much. I can absolutely see why this is extremely appealing to young readers, but for someone who is as easily creeped out as I am, this is just not for me.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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