Review by Booklist Review
In a tale that owes much to The Mysterious Benedict Society (and certain other classics), de la Cruz sends eight particularly talented middle-schoolers selected in a nationwide contest to a science center built in the remote Montana mountains by "the incredibly mysterious and blindingly brilliant" inventor Onasander Octagon. There they are pitched into bonding adventures related by an unnamed narrator, who trots in to lead the visitors on a grand tour while genially deflecting questions and posing a series of challenges on the way to enlisting their help to hide a batch of a powerful, reality-destroying element called Impossibilium. Diverse in race, culture, and family situation, the young folk, behind reluctant brainiac leader Edwin, throw off years of being variously ostracized, bullied, and coddled to survive fire, flood, piranhas, ninjas, a siren (of the singing sort), and other trials by learning how to be friends and teammates--and, not to be sneezed at, discovering that besides being smart or at least athletic, they all have actual superpowers.
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
De la Cruz (the Chronicles of Never After series) marries a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory plot with a Nickelodeon adventure vibe in this entertaining series opener. Following a nationwide assessment of American sixth graders, eight are invited to Montana's prestigious Octagon Valley Institute for a three-day summit of lectures and workshops--"It's like winning a golden ticket to the rest of your life." From across the country, the eight students of intersectionally diverse backgrounds gather, ready to discover the top-secret, cutting-edge projects in development. Upon their arrival, though, the Institute's enigmatic multiracial founder, Onasander Octagon, informs them that they must participate in one more assessment. It's a scavenger hunt through the compound's most top-secret areas, and it will require both teamwork and individual aptitude. While solving puzzles and defeating increasingly dangerous challenges, such as a room with slowly closing walls and a piranha-filled river, several of the children discover new angles to their strengths and weaknesses. But when they perceive the true secret behind the weekend's activities, it reframes their perceptions of themselves and the Institute. An energetic omniscient narrator utilizes self-aware humor to keep things moving, while rotating perspectives allow insight into the cast members' personalities and motivations. With its fast pace and imaginative scenarios, this novel has plenty of appeal. Ages 8--12. Agent: Richard Abate, 3Arts Entertainment. (Sept.)
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Review by Kirkus Book Review
Eight singular middle schoolers from across America find belonging in a series of escape room--type challenges. Each sixth grader assumes that winning a coveted spot to spend three days at the Octagon Valley Institute led by Willy Wonka--esque Onasander Octagon, an ethnically ambiguous multiracial tech genius, means winning a "golden ticket to the rest of your life." However, they soon realize that instead of an academic conference, they will each have to utilize their particular skills to find eight puzzle pieces in a high-stakes scavenger hunt. They face a pool of piranhas! A magical maze! Navigating the multiverse! But how can they work together when they each have powerful psychological defense mechanisms to combat fear, even if it's just the fear of being wrong? Only when they accept their emotions, take chances, and face their vulnerabilities do they overcome obstacles, discover hidden talents, and learn how to be teammates--and even friends. The eight kids' diverse personalities offer a wide range of connection opportunities for readers. The omniscient third-person narrator ingeniously blends snarky humor, lessons in emotion regulation, and nuggets of wisdom throughout, though readers may miss some references that read adult. The kids are ethnically diverse; some are white, and others have families who are Jamaican, Filipino, Korean, or Indian. They also represent neurodiversity and struggles with anxiety. A series opener that successfully combines emotional intelligence and page-turning adventure. (Adventure. 9-12) Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.