In 2016, The Inexplicable Disappearance of Mars Patel – a serialized podcast about a smart kid and his friends trying to solve the mystery of vanishing students at a billionaire-inventor’s fancy prep school – won a Peabody Award for “introducing a new generation to the wonders of audio storytelling.” Since then, the podcast has been developed into a YA book series with a heavy science-fiction component, and the latest edition is out now.
Having solved some of the mysteries surrounding H.G. Wells Middle school, Mars (the person) now finds himself on his way to the red planet to join a colony of other brilliant young people looking to start a new civilization. But things are never easy; he is without his friends, and between saboteurs, the dangers of space travel, and just how unfriendly a planet Mars (the planet) really is, Mars (the person) has plenty of trouble (and adventure) to deal with.
Here’s the official description:
Six months ago, Mars Patel boarded a spaceship to travel to Oliver Pruitt’s colony on the planet Mars, and now he’s finally there. The journey gave Mars lots of time to bond with his copilots, but Mars and his new friends soon discover that Pruitt’s colonists aren’t the only people living on the inhospitable planet. A splinter group, led by the mysterious Fang, are desperate to go back to Earth—and they don’t care who they hurt in the process. Amid the slick subterranean colony filled with rules and giant, terrifying tardigrades who poop a lot, Mars searches for answers about Oliver Pruitt’s supposed plans—and the real reason the eccentric billionaire has been so invested in him all this time.
The Interplanetary Expedition of Mars Patel is a fast-paced near-future adventure that pulls in issues that matter to the middle-grade readers it’s written for, from the climate crisis to staying connected with your friends when you are far away from them. As a parent who watched my own children grow up with social media and instant communications, I admire how the story just subsumes these modern factors of growing up into the lives of the characters. I also like any story that celebrates a diverse group of geeky outcasts coming together and feeling empowered to solve mysteries and correct the wrongs that they see. I think that, like most people who grew up as geeks and nerds, being on the “outside” also gave us perspective on the flaws built into the “inside,” and we want our own kids to have that bigger perspective as well (while hopefully reducing the negative emotional impacts that sometimes brings). So, if you’re looking for new stories for your kids that celebrate the geek in all of us, check out The Interplanetary Expedition of Mars Patel.