PLOTTING THE STARS 1: MOONGARDEN, by Michelle Barry, Pixel+Ink, Nov. 1, 2022, Hardcover, $18.99 (ages 10 and up)
A student at an elite school on the moon discovers a secret garden in Michelle A. Barry’s Moongarden, the first book in her Plotting the Stars series.
Centuries ago, Earth’s plants turned deadly, and humanity took to space to cultivate new homes. Myra Hodger is in her first year at an elite school on the Moon, and she’s crumbling under the pressure. She doesn’t fit in and, worse, the tattoos that signal her Number Whisperer magic aren’t developing. In her heart, she knows she doesn’t have a Creer, and soon everyone else will, too.
Wandering the halls while cutting class, she discovers a secret lab hidden behind one of the unused classrooms and, beyond that, a secret garden overflowing with plants. Dangerous toxic plants.
As she learns more about the garden, Myra begins to wonder if she does have a Creer after all — one that died out when the Earth did. One that could help solve the food shortages the government doesn’t want anyone to know about. —Synopsis provided by Pixel+Ink
If ever there was a book that spoke to my soul, Moongarden would be it. Everything from the premise to author Michelle A. Barry’s writing resonated with me.
Moongarden is Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden not only reimagined but transformed. Yes, there’s nods to source material, but make no mistake, Moongarden is unique.
At the center of the story is Myra. As the daughter of the foremost Number Whisperer experts, it’s all but a foregone conclusion that Myra will be as good as her parents. The problem is, she has absolutely no interest in numbers. Myra is a compelling protagonist that many readers will immediately identify with. She doesn’t know if she can or wants to live up to expectations.
Supporting characters come in the form of some students, a janitor, administrators and a cute little robot. While each of these characters are developed to varying levels of complexity, they are more than one-note props.
My favorite “character,” however, isn’t a person. It’s the secret garden. Barry must have either done a lot of research or have a great love of plants (or both). Her understanding of how they grow and overall scene-setting are fantastic. Myra’s interactions with the plants, and her pure joy and wonder are truly a lovely reading experience.
My only, and very tiny, complaint is that Myra and her friends read older than 12. I’d put them closer to 14. That said, it only bothered me when her age was stated. The rest of the time I forgot about it. But I do hope that Myra’s age won’t deter teen readers, because Myra will age through the series, and it’s a series that readers 12-14 are likely to enjoy.
Moongarden is a sci-fi, STEM, dystopian smorgasbord. Barry deftly weaves this together with themes of mystery, conspiracy, social pressures and friendship. It’s a fantastic start to Barry’s Plotting the Stars series, and I can’t wait to read the next book!
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