Moving Target by Christina Diaz Gonzalez
Published by Scholastic, August 25, 2015. Jacket hardcover of 256 pages at $17.99. Intended for ages 8 – 12, grades 3 – 7.
Note: I read an advanced copy so anything may have changed by publication.
The cover: Cassie has the typical eighth grade girl haircut, face half covered by hair, as she looks to her left, as if something troublesome has made itself known. Behind her, to her left, stands Asher, holding a book. His hoodie is in its usual position, up, and he looks as though he’s ready for action. The pair are in a room with very classical looking wooded walls. Immediately below Cassie’s face is the author’s name, and just below that is a very elaborate logo for the book’s title. The jacket design is by Phil Falco and Iacopo Bruno, with Bruno doing the actual art. I really like this cover; so much so, I would really like to see a graphic novel adaptation of this story with art by Bruno. The characters look fantastic and the background, even though it’s just a wall, looks super. Even the logo is perfection. This cover art really excited me. Outstanding work. Overall grade: A+
The premise: From the inside cover, “What if you could control destiny? Cassie Arroyo’s world is ripped apart when her father vanishes. What could anyone possibly want with a middle-aged art history professor? But there’s no doubt that he’s being chased by a dangerous organization called the Hastati — and Cassie is their next target. Cassie learns that she is a descendant of an ancient bloodline that enables her to use the Spear of Destiny: an object that in the right hands can shape the future, and in the wrong hands destroy it. But the spear has been missing for years. It seems that the Hastati will do whatever it takes to control it — and if they can’t find the spear itself, they’ll go after the ones who can use it. On the run, with only her best friend, Simone, to help her, Cassie must stay one step ahead of the Hastati as she tries to decipher the clues that will lead her to the spear. Her life — and the fate of the world — depend on it.” I didn’t read the this premise until after I had read the book. This sums up the first fifty pages of the book, which somewhat spoils the surprise of her bloodline, the Spear, and the Hastati. There are plenty of other big reveals as the story progresses, but what’s the point in reading the first twenty percent of the book after reading this? Overall grade: B
The characters: Cassandra “Cassie” Arroyo is a typical eighth grader: not thrilled with school, longing to go out and do what she wants, yet devoted to her father. Not helping her mood is feeling like an outsider in Rome, where she and her father reside. She’s gleaned plenty of knowledge from her father’s art history background, and she uses some of it in this book. She’s a good lead in this book and whenever she had to crack a code, I knew she’d get there eventually; it was never easy — she had to work for it, but she earned the solution, and that was pleasing to read. Her friend Simone is the typical smart-aleck friend (think Sam from iCarly), whose mouth makes comments without thinking. Her barbs cause conflict between herself and Asher, though he doesn’t exactly help the situation. Her mother is a well known figure in Rome and ends up being important by the book’s end. I liked that Simone thought of herself as Cassie’s sidekick. Asher is the nephew of Brother Gregorio. Like his uncle, he’s got a few secrets which are revealed slowly. I liked that he’s eager to prove himself in the tasks he’s been trained for and that he’s obviously got a sweet spot for Cassie, though it’s never addressed. His abilities get them out of scrapes and anytime he took an active role in a situation things got exciting. The villains of the book are the cult, the Hastati. They’ve decided to kill anyone that can access the power of the Spear, and Cassie’s on their list. There are several members of this group that the trio encounter, with the most memorable being the man with half an ear: a grotesque facet by Gonzalez that will linger long in readers’ minds. Every character is interesting and exciting when the clock is ticking. Overall grade: A
The settings: For a book that starts in Rome, I was expecting many more classical locales. After the first few chapters, the book leaves the famous city and moves to a new setting in the countryside. I wasn’t thrilled with this location. It was described in very generic terms. The settings aren’t really key to the plot or the action, but would have given a more authentic feel to where the characters are. Overall grade: B-
The action: This book moves at a breakneck pace. I was really impressed with how Gonzalez moves the story forward smartly, yet still including some conflict that would spur the characters to hurry. Even when there’s a momentary pause in the action as the characters try to solve a puzzle, the pressure to solve it was intense. This is a very strong element in this story and Gonzalez accomplishes a lot with her action. Overall grade: A+
The conclusion: This was a major disappointment: there isn’t one. Nothing is resolved and the power of the Spear just hinted at. There will be, hopefully, another book to continue the story. I would really like to see how things end up for the young heroes, but readers are left hanging at the end of this book. I was expecting a bit more; such as more abilities with the Spear or some resolution with her father. Overall grade: C-
The final line: Enjoyable characters with superb action, but no conclusion. I would welcome more of these characters’ exploits, but I need something to be resolved while waiting for the next installment. Overall grade: B+