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Books in Brief: What Goes Up by Katie Kennedy; Ben's Revolution by Nathan Philbrick


What Goes Up by Katie Kennedy; Bloomsbury Children's, 323 pages ($17.99) Ages 13 and up.

This thrilling and hugely entertaining sci-fi adventure has it all: suspense, action and romance as the smartest 17-year-olds in the nation are recruited for a high-stakes battle to save Planet Earth. This is sci-fi with plenty of explanations and applications of actual science. Rosa Hayashi, brilliant daughter of brilliant scientists, clearly belongs among the applicants competing to be on the latest team chosen for NASA's mysterious Interworlds Agency.  Disheveled Eddie Toivonen, grandson of a genius but son of a psychopath, clearly does not fit in with the rest, although he soon distinguishes himself for his out-of-the-box thinking. The 200 applicants are winnowed down to a handful through a series of tests that grow increasingly bizarre. After standard math and physics exams, competitors must untangle a box of Christmas lights, put a hand in a box with a scorpion, maneuver a block into a box with a robot helicopter, disable an actual bomb on a hydraulic platform high in the air, and possibly most entertaining:  "state your best observation of the physical laws in play around you" while inside an elevator crashing to the bottom of a shaft.  But the tests are not what they seem. While the testing aspect is a little reminiscent of Joelle Charbonneau's "The Testing" and the linked dream simulation is a bit like Veronica Roth's "Divergent," Kennedy's creation of an ominous gravitational disturbance heralding visitors from another dimension and Rosa and Teddie's creative response to the threat to Planet Earth are entirely original. Kennedy, a college history professor, wrote the acclaimed "Learning to Swear in America."


Ben's Revolution: Benjamin Russell and the Battle of Bunker Hill by Nathaniel Philbrick; illustrated by Wendell Minor; Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin Young Readers ($17.99).


This fascinating picture book, based on an episode in Nathaniel Philbrick's best-selling "Bunker Hill: A City, a Siege, a Revolution," brings to life the beginnings of the American Revolution in Boston as experienced by young Benjamin Russell, future newspaperman and state legislator. Philbrick sets the stage, with Benjamin at 12 walking the family cow to graze on Boston Common and helping printer friend Isaiah Thomas after school and in January 1775, complaining to a British officer about the ashes he spread on the slope outside his house, ruining the boys' favorite sledding hill.  When the shots "heard round the world" are fired, Ben and his schoolmates follow the British reinforcements marching toward Concord only to find themselves cut off from Boston. The boys are put to work assisting the militiamen from all over New England until Ben is reunited with his parents and given an "honorable discharge" at age 13.  Philbrick includes an informative author's note at the end. Wendell Minor's stunning paintings were based on meticulous research of drawings, paintings, maps, engravings and illustrations from the period.



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