First Light by Rebecca Stead

I’ve had Rebecca Stead’s debut novel First Light in my pile of books to read since November, when I met her at the Rochester Children’s Book Festival.  But then the Cybils came along, and I discovered that being a panelist for middle grade fiction meant reading nothing BUT middle grade fiction from October through the end of the year.  (First Light was actually nominated in the Fantasy & Science Fiction category, so it was in someone else’s pile.)

Once I finally started this book, it was hard to put down.  Peter Solemn’s world is rocked in the very first chapter when his father, a glaciologist, announces the family is going on a research trip to Greenland.  Two chapters later, we meet a second main character, Thea, who lives under the arctic ice in a society created generations ago by a group of people fleeing persecution in Europe.

What I loved most about this book was that it plunged me into not just one, but two fascinating new worlds.  Greenland itself really qualifies as an alien landscape of sorts, and Stead’s rich details bring it to life.  (Is there really a Volkswagon Road there where the company tests new models?  So cool!) Thea’s world beneath the ice is painted vividly as well with terrific  techno-details about the innovations of that new society called Gracehope.  I’ve added Gracehope to the list of imaginary places (along with Hogwarts and Narnia) that I long to visit some day.

I’m not giving too much away if I share that Peter and Thea  cross paths along the way.  Their stories intertwine in ways that are surprising but perfect and believable at the same time.  First Light is a great read — a fantastic mix of science fiction and adventure with plenty of real science mixed in, too.  Teachers looking for titles to integrate with earth science and environmental units will especially love this one.