The Multi-Author Series Trend in Middle Grade
As Earth’s fuel sources are running out, the world must face blackouts and the threat of complete power loss. But there is hope. An extraterrestrial substance, known as “the Source” can provide power for everyone, if only it can be recovered from somewhere deep in space. The catch – only children could survive the trip in the Gamma Speed trip required to get there and back in time. Eight twelve-year-olds are tested to determine which four will be chosen for the mission. But as they compete in tests of intelligence, agility, and strength, it quickly becomes clear that there is a lot more they aren’t being told.
In my childhood, having multiple authors writing for a single series was a secret – Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, Sweet Valley, Baby-Sitters’ Club. Times have changed. Rather than publish an entire series of books under the guise of a single author, now popular authors are being recruited to write a book or two in new series. The 39 Clues, first published in 2008, was the first time I saw this. Now there are a number of series like this one, including Spirit Animals and Infinity Ring. It makes sense – you can put out more books in a much shorter span of time and each author brings their respective fan bases. But do these books hold up?
The struggle of the first book is in the sheer number of characters. We spend the first part of the series getting to know the eight children competing for a spot on this world-saving mission. There are simply too many of them to get to know them particularly well. Dash, as the center of the story, is fairly well fleshed out, but I barely remember the other characters, much less what made them unique. It would be helpful to see more of their personalities so they feel real. The strength of 39 Clues was that the main characters and siblings Amy and Dan were a grounding force in the story. No matter how crazy things got, no matter how many others were introduced in the story, they always felt real and relatable. This was what I felt was missing here. Dash did not have the emotional depth to anchor the story and we do not get to anyone else well enough to compensate for him.
Though the character development could use more work, the book shows promise. The strength of this first book is in the plotting. While some details (such as which four kids are chosen for the mission – a detail partially given away by the cover itself) were obvious, the story had a number of twists and surprises I did not see coming. While it is made clear fairly early that the characters are not being told everything, the extent of those secrets is not made clear until they are unexpectedly revealed. As the team travels to collect “the source,” readers can expect an array of surprises and exciting adventures.
Can book two, written by Robin Wasserman, make up for the character deficits here? I don’t know, but I look forward to finding out.