Dare Mighty Things by Heather Kaczynski

Dare Mighty Things is a novel very much of its time: the writing is straightforward, if a bit uninspired, the characters familiar achetypes, and as with so many retellings, we pretty much have a very standard story redressed a bit for the modern market. In this case, a very typical sci fi plot merged with Hunger Games competition themes and gussied up with some non-white characters, one asexual, so the book looks unique. Your enjoyment in reading this will likely relate to how much regular sci fi you’ve read: if not much, it will be a fun read with an interesting plot. If you are invested in the sci fi genre, however, you’ve seen this before many times and written with much more nuance and depth.

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Synopsis: Cassie Gupta is driven and gifted – she knows what she wants and that is to join her parents in the space program. When she is invited into a special training session for a spaceflight at NASA, she is overjoyed – it is a rare chance to actually leave the Earth and a singularly unique chance for an 18 year old. As she joins the competition and gets to know the other competitors, she comes out of her loner shell and learns to like others. But the training/trials are hard and the applicants aren’t given much information about the exact nature of the program they are competing to pilot. At points, she will begin to doubt herself and whether she has what it takes to be one of the finalists to go to space.

Those expecting a Hunger Games redux here will be disappointed. There’s no cutthroat competition with each person trying to kill the other in order to gain the reward. Rather, it is a series of trials (running until you puke, underwater endurance, etc.) that weeds out the suitability of the competitors to live in a capsule in space for long periods of time. As the evaluations go on, each applicant of the large group will have weaknesses found out; some can conquer them and others cannot and quit/leave. There is a large twist at the end that really isn’t all that surprising, to be honest, and readers certainly knew that one, or many, were coming at the ends of the trials.

Although this is sci fi, it is pretty grounded. There is no excessive drama and this isn’t post apocalyptic or even futuristic. Other than the mention of gengineering of some of the applicants, a random discussion of the main character being asexual (I guess we’re supposed to believe that it is common enough in the future that it is instantly recognized by friends?), and a couple of other ‘futuristic’ items, this feels pretty much 2017. That’s both good and bad since the hallmark of a good sci fi is being able to realistically create a near future or future world that is believably different than the one we live in now. E.g., 30 years ago would we have predicted smart phones and the internet? It was one of the issues I had with Dare Mighty Things.

The characters were fine – I didn’t find much interesting about them and they did feel diverse. No one was wholly good or wholly evil, which was nice, but none felt fully fleshed out, either. Despite our heroine having a nice diverse heritage that she draws upon in the story, she feels like every other earnest and hardworking Cinderella that gets discovered because she is a unique snowflake in some way. No, our heroine isn’t an alien or magical or anything – but all the same, she does get ‘discovered’ in several ways so as to feel ‘speshul’. That, in itself, is a bit of a YA trope these days.

The story flows smoothly and though not very distinct, it is an easy read. Honestly, the writing felt that it was directed more at middle school readers rather than more sophisticated YA. There’s no real swearing or sex/violence and the sentence structures are simple and straightfoward (as is the plot). In contrast to several more literary YA I’ve read recently, this really does feel more middle grade than YA. A next step for the readers of Erin Hunter’s Warrior Cats series.

In all, Dare Mighty Things is a decent Summer read and the start of a series (not much is revealed in this book so there are many mysteries). And although not as deep as Beth Revis’ Across the Universe series, I do believe fans of that series will enjoy reading this one as well. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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