It’s 2194. Academy rejects forced by proximity to become a team also become friends in M.K. England’s debut, The Disasters. This comedic YA space opera includes a diverse cast of characters, each of whom are flawed, interesting and coming of age.
Four discarded students from the elite Ellis Station Academy wait for their flight of shame home when they witness a terrorist attack. They steal a shuttle to escape and become scapegoats. The story is told by openly Bi wannabe pilot Nax, who feels like a disappointment to his family. Case, an engineering prodigy who has one Latinx mother and another Asian one, pushes through panic attacks. Rion is a wealthy, gay Black Londoner with a knack for politics. Beautiful Zee, a trans girl from Kazakhstan, has mad medical skills that come in handy. Nax, Case, Rion and Zee meet up with hacker Asra, a Bengali hijabi girl, as they skip around the universe with terrorists on their tail. This newly found family may even have the ability to help each other connect with families of birth.
The comical banter between characters helps with world building and relationship building even through the fast–paced action. As the sole POV for the book, Nax dominates the narrative. Readers will want to hear more from each member of this ensemble cast, and so that’s either a disappointment or a series opportunity.
England doesn’t simply check off boxes for diversity. Rather, the cosmic setting allows them to write intersectional characters who draw from multiple identities. Additionally, some characters who share identities present and express those differently. In this way, England shows that among people with similar identities and experiences, a range of appropriate responses can occur.
England is a librarian and part of the LGBT+ community. As any good teen librarian would do, they compiled a Spotify playlist of space tunes for The Disasters, and it is so, so good. England’s sophomore title, Spellhacker, comes out January 2020. -Recommended by Rebecca Ballenger, The University of Arizona
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