Thursday, February 23, 2017

Fumbling Through Fantasy: This Place Has No Atmosphere by Paula Danziger (1986)

Like The Other Side of the Moon, which I reviewed yesterday, This Place Has No Atmosphere is also a middle grade novel set in a moon colony, but with a much more superficial twist. Aurora is a high school student in the year 2057, when people live in malls and schools issue "yeardisks" in place of yearbooks. Her parents are successful scientists, and when they are given an opportunity to live and work on the moon for five years they decide to accept it and move Aurora and her sister Starr with them to the moon. Aurora is horrified at the thought of leaving her friends and her boyfriend, and she is sure she will be heading back to Earth in a year to stay with her grandparents. After she and some of the other teens on the moon begin planning a production of Our Town, however, her outlook on moon living begins to change.

I very distinctly remember finding this book on display in the YA section at my childhood library not long after the librarian (who later became a coworker and a friend!) made me aware that there was a section for middle school and high school readers. I read it several times over a period of several years, and then eventually, it ran its course and I moved on to something else. My memory has always been that this was a fast-paced romance novel about a girl who lives in a mall on the moon. Reading the book last week, however, showed me the weakness of my memory.

First of all, Aurora does not live in a mall. None of the characters in the story do - not on Earth, and not on the moon. There is some romance, but it's minimal, especially compared with other Danziger books that had a lot of kissing and hand-holding in them. This book has some, but it's not the sole focus. The story itself also dragged. Aurora's concerns seemed so superficial, and the idea of teenagers in a moon colony putting on a play just struck me as ridiculous. I wish I knew what was so appealing about this book when I was 11 or 12, because it is completely lost on me now.

One thing I did notice that went right over my head as a kid were references to fertility drugs. I'm sure I was unaware of any interventions that could help women achieve pregnancy when I was in middle school, but the casual mention of  them in this book did give me pause. They aren't enough of a plot point for me to feel that the whole book is inappropriate, but I think most Catholic parents would at least want to be aware that these casual references are included in the book. This book is not the kind of thing I'll be rushing to share with my girls anyway, because it just isn't that good, but the author's clear approval of the use of such drugs would be something I'd have to think about if I did plan to have them read the book.

Overall, this book, though futuristic, is actually terribly dated. Half of its futuristic technology has already come and gone and the other half seems even more impractical now than it did in 1986 when the book was first published. I think there is probably a certain kind of contemporary kid who would still enjoy this book, and it is surprisingly still in print, so if you know that kid, you can easily purchase a copy. It is by no means, however, the must-read I imagined. (I am curious about how other Danziger titles hold up now, though. I might have to snag a few and binge-read them!)

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