Middle Grade Book Review

The Lion of Mars by Jennifer L. Holm

Publication Date: January 5, 2021

Summary from NetGalley:

Bell has spent his whole life – all eleven years of it – on Mars. But he’s still just a regular kid – he loves cats, any kind of cake, and is curious about the secrets the adults in the US colony are keeping. Like, why don’t have contact with anyone on the other Mars colonies? Why are they so isolated? When a virus breaks out and the grown-ups all fall ill, Bell and the other children are the only ones who can help. It’s up to Bell – a regular kid in a very different world – to uncover the truth and save his family … and possibly unite an entire planet.

Mars may be a world far, far away, but in the hands of Jennifer L. Holm, beloved and bestselling author of The Fourteenth Goldfish, it can’t help but feel like home.

ARC provided by Random House Children’s via NetGalley for an honest review.

Confession:

This was such a sweet and wonderful story. There were a lot of good things that I think kids can relate to, especially the feeling of isolation and loneliness that Bell and his friends feel living in a very small community on Mars.

Bell was a great narrator for this story. He is a sweet kid, who loves the family that he has been a part of since he was small. All of the kids are adopted, which I thought was a nice touch. They were all brought to the colony at different times, so they all became a part of this found family. But Bell still feels, not exactly trapped, but kind of wants more, and doesn’t fully understand the adults in his life. But he shares a certain closeness with them. I also loved that there was a cat in this settlement. Bell and Leo had a great bond as only kids and cats can have. He also has good relationships with the other kids, but they also have their moments, as all siblings do.

The only thing I can maybe say that I didn’t like, was that I didn’t get a lot of warm fuzzies from the adults that took care of the kids. Don’t get me wrong, I think they cared a lot for them and loved them, but that wasn’t really shown in the story, or at least not enough maybe. I really liked the relationship between Bell and Phineas, who was the botanist of the group and was like their grandfather, at least in age. There were a couple of nice scenes with him that I really liked. But the other adults were just sort of there.

The story is nicely done. There is quite a lot that happens in this fairly short book (275 pgs.) There are themes of grief, isolation, sibling rivalry and survival. It was nice to see kids getting into trouble just because they are curious, just like kids on earth. It was amusing to see Bell’s difficulties in understanding what life must have been like on earth as he only knows about it through books, movies and the adult’s recollections. But the teens and tweens still act like they should. I also liked that it was the kids, that finally got the adults to forgive and want to work and be friends with the other colonies once again, against orders.

A very nicely done story that will be a nice introduction to science fiction for middle schoolers. These kids live normal lives, even if it is on mars, with some mild adventure and a sense of belonging and what it means to be a community.

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