In Review: Where the Rock Splits the Sky

Where the Rock Splits the Sky by Philip Webb

Published by Chicken House, a division of Scholastic, March 25, 2014. Hardcover of 262 pages at $17.99. Intended for ages 14 – 18, grades 9 and up.

NOTE: I read an advanced copy so any aspect of the book may have changed by publication.

The cover: I love this cover. This is the perfect enticement for any reader. A desert sky is in pink, almost blood-like, colors, and in it hangs the remains of the moon, split in half. You know exactly what the setting will be due to this image. I also like how there are no characters on this cover, leaving me wondering if they’re insignificant in this environment or people are so few and far between on this Earth the picture is a true representation of what I’d see if I looked upon it. I’m just full of questions looking at this, and it makes me anxious to begin reading. There’s no specific credit listed for this cover, but book design is credited to Phil Falco, so I’ll assume he was responsible for this awesomeness. Overall grade: A

The premise: From the inside front cover: “The world stopped turning long before Megan was born. Ever since the Visitors shattered the moon and stilled the Earth, infinite sunset is all anyone has known. But now Megan is on a renegade mission. Riding her trusty steed Cisco, backed up by her posse, Kelly and Luis, she ventures out of her Texas hometown and sets off on a journey across the ravaged American West in search of her father. To find him, she must face the Zone, a notorious landscape where aliens hide and laws of nature do not apply. The desert can play deadly tricks on the mind. To solve the mystery of not just her missing father but the paralyzed planet itself, Megan must survive it.” Another book where a girl is looking for a lost parent doesn’t thrill me, but the experiences that the characters will encounter in this Zone intrigue me. This sounds like an alien Wanderer of the Wasteland (by Zane Grey). I love western novels, so combining that genre with science fiction has got me hooked. Overall grade: A-

The characters: Megan Bridgwater is a girl who can wait no longer. She’s always lived on an Earth where the Visitors have split the moon, killed billions of people, and made the surviving United States into a constant state of sunset. She’s also been without her father and now she wants to enter the Zone, the wilds of the American West, to find him. She is most enjoyable when confronting the problems she encounters in the Zone, skill and/or luck allowing her to move on to the next setting. She is resolute and firm in her desire to find him. She has little humor and finds herself at odds with her goal and the safety of the two individuals accompanying her. The first to join her is Luis, a smithy from her own town, who comes along because he feels the Zone is too dangerous for any person to enter alone. He provides a good counterpoint for her, and later reveals another reason for coming along. There is no romance or romantic tension between the two due to the seriousness of their journey. The last of this trio is Kelly Tillman, whose discovery and origin are terrific. She is loose with her words and humor to abate the trouble they encounter. Kelly is the most enjoyable character; she is new to this world and makes mistakes as the reader would, unlike Megan who knows this world yet is too distant to relate to. The antagonists are the Visitors and the obstacles in the Zone. The Visitors are mentioned often, but only truly seen in the beginning and end of the book, and I enjoyed them in the end but just didn’t care for them in the end, which I’ll explain in detail in my discussion of the conclusion. The Zone is amazing. I enjoyed that thoroughly and I’ll discuss that under setting. I had some difficulty enjoying this book because Megan became more distant as the book went on. Overall grade: B-  

The settings: The setting takes precedence over the characters entirely. It seems as though that’s how this book was conceived: setting first, then story. I loved an eternally sunny Earth and the havoc it gives to its inhabitants. I loved how the book began in the typical old West setting of Marfa in the initial chapters; it had every element I enjoy of those locales. As the heroes left this setting and entered the Zone I didn’t know what to expect–Anything but Damnation Alley, I hoped! Thankfully, it doesn’t go down that path, but takes a wonderfully ominous turn towards the strange and deadly. Highlights include the city of Valentine (my favorite), “The Invisible Ocean,” and “The One-Way Valley.” After these three early locations, the settings became generic; for example, I didn’t like Carlsbad: been there, done that in too many science fiction books and there was nothing new to interest me. The final location of the climax was interesting, but more so for the individual there than the physicality of it. Overall grade: B+

The action: The book opens with a classic Western shootout and then become a twisted “On the Road” adventure. The constant threat of the Visitors seems tame until one is up close and personal and in charge. This detailed encounter ups the tension considerably. The threats of the Zone are physical and psychological, with the latter being uncommon in a teen novel and delightfully welcome. The action isn’t constant, but the threat of action occurring isn’t lost on the heroes and that makes calm situations gripping. Overall grade: A

The conclusion: I was incredibly let down. Perhaps the buildup was too great, but the solution to the situation was just too simple. I just didn’t believe it after all that the characters had been through. The revelation at the end was also cliche; couldn’t this ending have been similar without “that” inclusion? It was too much. This was the type of ending that made me question why I read the book to begin with. You may think differently, but I just did not like it. Overall grade: D-

The final line: Fun until the end, and then I was disappointed. I would have liked to have seen this be a longer book, more time on the road and a more thought out ending. Overall grade: C+

 

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer’s Guide for a few years with “It’s Bound to Happen!” He had to give that up to teach 8th graders English for 19 years. He’s since moved to a high school where he’s taught 9th grade and currently teaches 10th graders English. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars or Indiana Jones items online.

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