Book Review: The Firefly Code (Megan Frazer Blakemore)

This middle grade sci-fi story was recommended to me by a friend interning at Bloomsbury around the time it was published. Knowing my bent for science fiction, he sent the recommendation my way. It took me a while to get to it, partly because I was reading a stack of young adult books at the time and didn’t want to switch gears to middle grade (yes, I get caught in an “age group” rut sometimes) and partly because it didn’t actually look that much like a sci-fi book. To me, the cover looks more like a fantasy or contemporary story, so I was thrilled to learn, when I started reading, that it’s pure sci-fi and it deals with the questions I love thinking about, like the nature of humanity. What makes us truly human? How much genetic engineering can we do to ourselves before we turn into something else? Where’s the line between “natural” and “manufactured” when it comes to life on this planet?

What’s particularly amazing about this book is that author Megan Frazer Blakemore manages to prod at these huge questions in a manner that’s not only accessible to younger readers, but that’s downright engaging. I seriously couldn’t put the book down, and neither could my kids when they read it.

The book got me to wondering why we don’t see more sci-fi books for this age group that probe the nature of humanity in this way (science getting out of control is a very accessible conceit for middle grade readers). I’ve seen quite a few spaceship stories on the middle grade shelves in recent years, but nothing more down-to-earth, so to speak.

The Firefly Code has engaging characters facing an unusual world with some really challenging moral dilemmas. The characters are well-drawn, and each of the group of friends that shares the spotlight with protagonist Mori contributes an important perspective to the story, as well as providing lots of friendly (and sometimes frenemy-like) banter and competition.

The ending is a little ambiguous, but not in a way that I think would cause unrest or unease to younger readers. I’m guessing it’s intended to make them think about scientific ethics in a complex world and what we want our future to look like, and I suspect most of today’s younger readers are ready and yearning for the challenge.

Blakemore has combined a fun, engaging narrative with just the right undercurrent of unease, concern and mystery. I’d highly recommend this for readers of any age.