This book caught our attention because it is based on a podcast series by the same name. Caveat: I've not listened to the podcast, but the concept was intriguing, and if it's anything like the book, it would be appropriate for a middle school classroom to listen, as a regular in-class feature. That could be kinda cool, actually.
On to the review. Eleven-year-old Mars and his classmates (Aurora, Toothpick, Caddie, and JP) are eagerly counting down the days to their chance to escape 7th grade at H.G. Wells (wink, wink) Middle School by taking the GIFT test to get into exclusive Pruitt Prep, founded by techie guru genius Oliver Pruitt.
Aurora's super smart; Caddie's headaches predict when bad things are going to happen; Toothpick has a prodigious memory; and JP, they/them, doesn't know their own strength. And Mars...he's a Pruitt fanboy. Listens religiously to Pruitt's podcast, every day. Together they're a handful for their principal to manage, constantly up to no good, but generally harmless, pranks and pratfalls that net them a lot of time in detention together.
Then Aurora goes missing. Doesn't respond to any texts. Her house is empty, her parents supposedly moved away overnight. Mars and gang don't buy it. In fact, they find out kids are disappearing all over the world, the smartest, the brightest, poof! And they hook up with others who have proof: the Missing posters, with pictures and dates. What's going on?
Strangely, there are clues in Pruitt's daily broadcast. They follow them up by exploring across the water on the island where Pruitt Prep should be. And they encounter something totally strange: all their "abilities" are enhanced as soon as they touch foot on shore. But there's a scary creature guarding the school, and once they evade it, they find... nothing. Nothing at all, where the school should be. It's gone.
Their antics don't go unnoticed, however. A teacher (not sure if he's an ally or foe) rescues them, and soon drones are following them, particularly Mars. I won't spoil the plot, not from this point forward. But I will say this: there was one aspect of this book that really irritated both me and my teen daughter, who also read it, and that's the ending. It's abrupt, sudden and comes out of nowhere. I was going to send the book back to the library, unreviewed, until I looked it up; it's the first of a three-book deal.
So, I've never done this before, but I'm actually recommending holding off reading the next one and waiting until all three in the series come out. I guess I'm hoping the sequels are just as good as the set-up for this one. I also imagine on a podcast this functioned as a cliff-hangar, but for a book the ending fell flat into "What the heck?!" frustrating.
English Teachers' Note: The book is an interesting example of how the storytelling medium influences the reader's reaction. If you're looking for stories told in multiple formats to highlight how the format influences the story, this would be a great example! It lends itself to identify, compare / contrast and argumentative writing standards quite well.