The Only Ones

Gr 7 Up—Martin Maple lives on a remote island with his father, who spends his time constructing a mysterious machine. When the man doesn't return from his journey to find its final piece, Martin ventures off island and discovers that not only has his father vanished, but so has nearly everyone else in the world. Eventually he comes to Xibalba and meets other eccentric and lonely young people who have survived the unknown event: bossy Darla, who drives a monster truck; cynical Lane, who builds elaborate mobile sculptures; and mysterious Nigel, who claims to talk to animals and is regarded by the inhabitants of Xibalba as a prophet. Convinced that his father's machine can set things to rights, Martin works to reconstruct it while, in true Lord of the Flies fashion, tensions and secrets start to erode the workings of the makeshift society. Slow to build, Starmer's science-fiction fable ultimately becomes gripping and haunting as the characters explore matters of faith, leadership, and responsibility, culminating in a reflective, bittersweet conclusion worthy of Neil Gaiman.—Christi Esterle, Parker Library, CO
During one afternoon, everyone in the world disappears--except for a small group of children. Martin believes his father's unfinished machine is connected to the event, but he needs the help of the other kids to complete it. With a colorful cast of characters and a unique setting, the story will appeal to sci-fi fans on their way to Robert Heinlein.
The premise of a community governed and populated solely by children will be inherently interesting to young readers, who will no doubt speculate on how they would live in, contribute to, and run such a society. Clues regarding the novel’s many mysteries—why Martin Maple was raised outside civilization, why nearly everyone on earth disappeared, why Martin’s father was building a strange machine—are meted out at a steady pace, providing continuous interest. Aaron Starmer’s lucid prose and detailed descriptions vividly bring the setting to life: “Martin sat on a wooden stool, in the middle of a church. The pews had been removed, and in a haphazard circle around him, a group of approximately forty kids reclined on sofas and plush chairs. A stocky boy with a mess of curly red hair circled the room with a large candle, lighting smaller candles that had melted into the ledges next to the soot-caked windows.” An engaging and diverse cast, from a feisty, flirtatious California girl to a bloody-minded boy who claims to commune with animals. In contrast to the many outsized characters, Martin is very relatable—just like the book’s audience, he’s observing this world and meeting these kids for the first time.

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