Published by Putnam Children's on May 1, 2014
Genres: science fiction
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Tate and his father don’t exactly get along. As Tate sees it, his father has unreasonably high expectations for Tate to be the best—at everything. Tate finally learns what he’s being prepared for when he steals one of his dad’s odd tech inventions and mercenaries ambush the school, killing his father in the process and sending Tate on the run from aliens who look just like humans.
All Tate knows--like how to make weapons out of oranges and lighter fluid--may not be enough to save him as he’s plunged into a secret inter-species conflict that’s been going on for centuries. Aided only by his girlfriend and his estranged mother, with powerful enemies closing in on all sides, Tate races to puzzle out the secret behind his father’s invention and why so many are willing to kill for it. A riveting, fast-paced adventure, Scan is a clever alien thriller with muscle and heart.
So one way to succinctly summarize Scan is “Junior MacGyver vs. the Aliens.” Okay, there is more to it than that, but that is the basic gist. We follow the adventures of Tate Archer as he unwittingly unleashes a secret and powerful alien horde on his family. Kids these days!
For me, the strongest point of the book was the characterization. For being a MacGyver-level, 11 language speaking, hacker, chemistry genius, Tate comes off as a normal teenage boy. He makes some really dumb (but understandable) mistakes. Sometimes he says the wrong things to his girlfriend, Christina. Perhaps he was even too normal in some ways. At the very beginning of the book Tate’s POV is just so obnoxiously male. He berates himself for being “a pussy.” His thoughts and the way he looks at Christina occasionally rove toward “leer” territory, but is balanced by how much you can tell that Tate really loves her. He would sometimes think the most adoring and sweet things. The sort of words I imagine many teen girls would love to hear from their boyfriends. So I guess the weird thing I’m saying here is that I enjoyed his characterization but didn’t necessarily always like it. This is a small example of how I feel about the book at large, I suppose. There were aspects that I liked so much only for them to be weighted down by an unfavorable element.
I’m happy to report that Christina was great in her own right. Lacking the lifetime of training Tate has had, she proves more than capable to think quick and act bravely in some really terrifying situations. She was so emotionally strong as well. I know I wouldn’t be able to keep it together half as well after learning that aliens not only existed but were out to get me personally. Another great thing about her: she’s kickass and super feminine. I also really appreciated the inclusion of Tate’s mom as part of the main trio. Moms in YA are just so often sort of these background characters (if they appear at all!) who are somewhat clueless or helpless in their children’s lives. I just thought it was so refreshing to see a mother character being independent, fierce, and fiercely intelligent. The ladies in this book were strong characters and forces to be reckoned with.
The action scenes are tense, bloody, high adrenaline shockers. I enjoyed them but I wanted more. The beginning and end contain nearly all of the action. A non-stop thrill ride this is not. In between there is a lot of telling not showing as various characters reveal (or refuse to reveal) key information about the alien invasion and the nature of the alien’s true designs on our planet. I had a sense of frustration as I felt like we spent the vast majority of the book listening to characters talk about the aliens but not really learning anything that advanced the plot. At the end of the book the main questions raised at the beginning are still unanswered. With a series, I feel like it’s important to keep the main mystery alive but scatter the story throughout with answers to smaller questions. Even answering the first book’s main mystery is fine if new questions are raised by the end of that book. It is possible my reading comprehension is failing me and we did receive these answers and I missed them.
Another thing is that when I think “alien thriller” I think of my aliens as more…well, alien. These aliens are genetically identical to humans and have been living and interbreeding among us for 400 years. They already outnumber actual humans and the vast, vast majority have no awareness that they aren’t actually human. There’s just a small core (actually called The Core) of aliens who are intent upon obtaining the Scanner and…committing presumably nefarious deeds? We don’t know why they want it and we don’t know the real important truth of what it does. There are no spaceships, no alien superpowers, and nothing else to really differentiate the aliens that you couldn’t just substitute with “Evil Corporate Entity”, “Evil Mastermind”, etc…They could be any human organization with bad intentions and a lot of power. I really wanted that sense of otherness and I didn’t get it.
I will say that I think this could very well be one of those books that in retrospect of Book 2 is some seriously brilliant set up. I do get the sense that there is a very big, perhaps explosive, reveal coming in future installments. We shall see.
My favorite aspect of the plot was (suprise!) the romance between Tate and Christina. I actually really liked them as a couple. For as much as it maybe came across above as though I don’t like Tate, I was really impressed by his character growth toward the end of the story. Like I said, he says the wrong things sometimes but he truly means well. There’s not a lot of room for romance in this story but what there is is really sweet and effectively done. And there was a subtle but clearly intentional insistence on the importance of consent that was wonderful to see. I also just love that this is more of a “boy book” (though I loathe such distinctions) and yet it contains a romantic storyline that, while not the focus, is by no means relegated to the background. So much of what motivates Tate in this story is inextricably linked to his feelings for Christina. These two go through a lot both physically and emotionally and weather their issues better than many adults could. And it doesn’t seem even the least bit unrealistic (which is such a credit to authors). I’m rooting for them.
There is a lot to love here, it just didn’t quite grip me in the way I wanted it to. My reaction feels so personally specific, though. The action is great, the characters are relatable, the ladies are fierce (woo!) and there are some truly interesting themes touched upon of acceptance and bridging the gaps in misconception between the generations (and sometimes species!). We are really big fans of Sarah Fine here at The Midnight Garden (you must see this lovely feature she did with us last year on her favorite YA romantic scene!!!) I’m confident this would be a 4 star or higher read in the hands of the right reader. Fair warning! This one has a rather abrupt cliffhanger ending although, thankfully, I wouldn’t classify it as a “killer.”
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Thanks to our friends at Putnam Juvenile we’re giving you the chance to get in on the alien fun! All you have to do is fill out the Rafflecopter form and leave a comment below telling us why you’re excited to read this title. This contest is international, and open to all readers aged 18 and older, or 13 and older with parental permission. See entry form for complete rules. Good luck!