Author: Linda M. David
Publication Date: December 27, 2011
Number of pages: 248
Recommended age: 9+
Reviewed by: Renee (Mother)
Agathea Fulstropp is a lonely 11-year-old girl, a bit on the moody side, and more than a little spoilt.
She is looking forward to a luxury break in the Caribbean with her parents, but is livid when they announce that the trip has to be cancelled due to work commitments! So instead of spending six weeks sunning herself on a tropical beach, Thea – as she insists on being called – finds herself unceremoniously packed up, and sent off to stay with a grandfather she barely knows for the entire summer!
But it turns out to be the best summer of her life when her grandfather has a strange reunion with a mysterious childhood friend, and she is given the opportunity of a lifetime.
To visit a world beyond the stars, and become Earth’s first student to be enrolled in an experimental Inter-Planetary Education Programme at the Firestone Academy, where lessons in telepathy, mind-reading and astral projection are the norm.
Things, however, are not as straightforward as they seem. One of her fellow students makes no secret of the fact that he despises her, and will stop at nothing to make her leave…she is having increasingly disturbing vivid dreams…and just who is that hideously deformed cave creature, and more to the point, what does it want with her?
My Thoughts: The Firestone Crystal had me hooked from the start when we first meet 11 year-old Agathea (Thea) who is shipped off to her grandfather Titus’ farm for summer vacation. The author wastes no time in revealing Titus’ secret – that he has been in communication with an alien from another planet (Xenn) since he was himself a child and that they together are the keepers of the firestone crystal – a mysterious and magical gem that is the key to the salvation of the universe.
Thea is quickly whisked away to the Inter-Planetary Education Programme at the Firestone Academy where there are students from over 60 planets. Amusingly, it turns out that Earthlings are considered among the most primitive of species in the universe. Who knew?! The author has weaved in so many original and fun ideas in the creation of this academy and I think science fiction fans will LOVE these parts. For example, there is a the Duplicating Machine that delivers species-specific menus to the students in pill form. You just push a button and Bam – instant food! Then, you push another button and the plate self-cleans (yes, I’m signing up for THAT when it’s invented!) Of course, the author also accomodates for inter-species communication through the Academy’s Universal Speech Deciphering Device which, interestingly, malfunctions one day. Hmmmm…. The attention to detail in making the reader believe that this world actually exists is absolutely top notch!
As a mother of a tween, I always look for the positive messages or lessons to be learned in the middle grade books that my daughter reads. This book is jam-packed with them. The author has taken advantage of the educational setting and the diversity of the characters in the story to touch upon the themes of fairness, tolerance, honesty, taking responsibility, and understanding and respecting the diverse cultures represented at the academy. Think of it as the United Nations on a universal level and in the context of going to school to learn to be a good “universal” citizen. The lesson where each student is given a Sproglett (a tiny humanoid that develops and adapts to its environment and comes to reflect its caregiver’s inner thoughts) is absolutely brilliant! Essentially, the idea is that the Sproglett assigned to you is a blank slate and every interaction that you have (or don’t have!) will have an impact on its development. If you feed it nutritious food, have pleasant interactions, build a comfortable home, and so on, it thrives. It was fascinating to read how each Sproglett fared based on the student caring for it. Can you imagine the potential with this kind of experiment?! I just absolutely LOVED this concept (aside from the ethical questions it raised)!
Alongside the science fiction elements and the important themes covered in the book, what is at the heart of this story is a mystery and it’s a great one. There is a traitor amongst the students and there are many potential suspects. It is very difficult to surprise me, but the author managed to keep me guessing throughout the entire story and when the culprit is finally revealed … well, let’s just say that I did not see it coming! Linda David has pulled together and developed a very interesting, well-rounded cast of characters – a big challenge when you have to create new species.
Also interesting to note is that Thea, the main character is a black female and at one point, she reflects on how she used her difference as an excuse to push away her peers. Here is a quote where Thea explains to her roommate Annalije about her experiences:
“I was black, they were white. I guess what I’m trying to say is I looked different from the other girls, so I convinced myself that that was the reason I had no friends. That way, I didn’t have to face the fact that it was me they didn’t like. I just expected them not to like me and it gave me an excuse not to like them either”…
Through her “lessons” at the Acamedy, we witness Thea gaining new perspectives and learning so much about herself. The author did a great job in developing a sympathetic character who undergoes a significant transformation over the course of the story.
My bottom line: The Firestone Crystal is absolutely the type of book that I would have devoured as a tween. It has a main character who grows from a self-centred, “difficult” tween into an introspective, cultured, and courageous young girl; a unique and creative inter-galactic setting filled with strange creatures and advanced technology; important life lessons relevant to tween and teen kids; and an intriguing and suspenseful plot filled with unexpected twists and turns. I couldn’t put it down – I thoroughly enjoyed it! I would recommend this book to tween girls in particular (although I think boys would enjoy it as well) who love science fiction and a good mystery. Ages 9+
*** This book was provided to us free-of-charge by the author in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own. ***