Published by Andersen Press on May 4th 2017
Genres: Children's, Young Adult
Zimbabwe, 1994. A group of children spot peculiar lights in the sky over the grounds of their school. From this moment on, six young people's lives are changed forever. Gary hides the anguish he feels now his mum's left, acting out in fury and hatred. Chloe has no words for the thing she fears most every day. Karl is the headmaster's son, now fallen from grace. Tendai knows he can never live up to his grieving father's ideals. And Sixpence watches all, knowing he'll never be like these other children. All of them have seen something they can't explain.In amongst these tangled, tortured lives, comes a group of psychologists to verify the spookily similar claims of every witness. Their daughter, Holly, can tell there's more to it than aliens or mass hysteria – can she reveal the dark truths that haunt them?Inspired by true accounts, this is the long-awaited new novel from Costa-award-winner Jason Wallace.
I had really high expectations for Encounters – aliens or mass hysteria? Zimbabwe? Multiple points of view, from different kids with a connection? Honestly, Encounters sounded like something I should have loved, but it just didn’t work for me at all.
The writing style feels very young, more like 9-12 than teen, but in terms of content, it’s definitely older. It’s an emotionally complex story filled with shades of grey, and characters who aren’t good, or bad, or necessarily even likable, just people in difficult circumstances making the decisions they think they have to. The early chapters are littered with racist, homophobic and otherwise offensive comments from a particular character. The very-mature content along with the childish writing style felt like an awkward juxtaposition, and it made it hard for me to connect with the story from the very beginning.
Ultimately, the synopsis for the book and the story itself just didn’t match up for me at all, and if I’d known what sort of book I was picking up, I probably wouldn’t have bothered, because it’s not my kind of story. The sci-fi elements are almost non-existent. This isn’t a book about aliens, or even mass hysteria – it’s a book about kids. If you want a gritty, emotionally-intense story about kids who have problems at home, or at school, or emotionally, you’ll probably enjoy this. If you like ambigious stories, you’ll probably like this. If you’re looking for a sci-fi read though, this isn’t it.