tipThe Icarus Project by Laura Quimby
Release Date: October 1, 2012
Publisher: Harry N. Abrams
Source: NetGalley
Rating: starstarstarstarblank_star
Buy It: Amazon | IndieBound

More than anything, Maya wants to discover something incredible. Her parents are scientists: Her mother spends most of her time in tropical rainforests, uncovering ancient artifacts, and her dad is obsessed with digging up mammoths. When her father gets invited by an eccentric billionaire to lead a team investigating a mammoth’s remains in the Arctic, Maya begs to come along. Upon her arrival at the isolated camp, the mammoth is quickly revealed to be a fake, but there is something hidden in the ice—something unbelievable. Along with a team of international experts, each with his or her own agenda and theory about the mystery in the ice, Maya learns more about this discovery, which will change her life forever.

It’s that time of year again! You know, late September, you’ve read 70+ books and now you can’t even look at a book without feeling stressed and nauseous? Or is that just me? To cleanse my palate of angsty supernatural YA, I’ve been immersing myself in… supernatural middle-grade. All the fun and adventure without the romance! Perfect! (I’ve also been reading the Ruby Oliver novels, which are so silly and have almost no plot.) This one really doesn’t disappoint either! Maya is a precocious thirteen year old with divorced scientist parents. Her mother is often out of the country and her father has bad luck with grants. She likes colors and connecting them to emotions and she draws in her notebook. She’s super smart and makes connections in her head that I’m not sure I would, plus she has this vast storage of esoteric knowledge gleaned from her scientist parents. She makes for an interesting narrator, which is good considering the book is written in first-person. It’s always a sad day when being in the protag’s head makes you hate them more.

The story gets going pretty quickly, and there’s only a little bit of fact-finding before they reveal the mammoth is fake. I like Maya’s interactions with her father, who sounds like the coolest dad ever, and her adventuring with Kyle, who she doesn’t immediately swoon over. I was dying to know what was actually under the ice during this period too. Dying! I had no idea this story would be fantastical (obviously I am not very good at closely reading summaries), so I was really happy when I discovered there’s a teensy bit of magic in this one! Oh, and something I thought was cute (and entirely contrary to my own thinking), but Maya is okay with the icy tundra being a mammoth graveyard, but it makes her sadder to think of the people the ice might encase. I’m personally sadder for the poor mammoths. Let me segue here into something I didn’t really like: the stereotypes. Russian man tied to the mob and illegal drugs, mystical indigenous women in Alaska, stiff and formal Japanese man. Those characterizations lacked the depth of Maya or Kyle or even Randal.

HOWEVER. The mystery is great and so is Maya. When they unearth their prize, strange things start happening, including very realistic dreaming. Maya goes out one night into the snow and discovers cool things that will spoil you, so I won’t elaborate, but I ended up reading bits and pieces of it to my boyfriend, that’s how much I liked those scenes. I always like storylines that show how much adults root themselves in what’s “real” and forget about magic. Only children can see magic because they haven’t yet learned to ignore it. I believe in magic, though maybe not in the way most books use it. No one can shoot light out of their fingers, of course, but that doesn’t mean magic doesn’t happen. That’s probably my favorite part of middle-grade, the magic of being a kid again, even though I almost always figure out the twists before the protag. (True in this case as well!)

Maya gets a little irrational in the last quarter of the book, though I understand why. She wasn’t on equal standing with the rest of the scientists and didn’t really have the language to explain her feelings to them. Couple that with fear she wouldn’t be believed, and her bad decisions can be understood. Things get really crazy at the end of the novel. I liked this one a lot, both for its elements of “real” and for its magical action. Middle-grade at its (almost) best, in my opinion. Check this one out when it comes to bookstores on October 1!