Above World by Jenn Reese

“Above World” is what the Coral Kampii in the City of Shifting Tides call the land world outside the ocean. Thirteen year old Aluna has lived beneath the ocean’s surface all her life, and she’s about to undergo the ceremony in which she will be genetically modified to receive her tail to replace the two legs she now carries. (She’ll be sort of like a mermaid, only not.) All of the creatures in this future dystopia are genetically modified to be able to live in parts of the earth that were historically uninhabitable: the ocean (Kampii and Deepfell), the desert (Horse People and Snake People), the air (Aviars). All of these hybrid creatures depend on LegendaryTek for power to sustain their technical modifications.

However, there are also villains in Above World. Some of the hybrid people may be enemies, more concerned with their own survival than with that of anyone else. Upgraders and other animal-like creatures have modified themselves so much that they are more machine than human. Humans, if any are left, are considered barbarians. It’s a dangerous world. But Alana decids that she must go to Above World to save her people the Coral Kampii who are dying for some unknown reason.

Martial arts aficionados would especially enjoy this story since there’s lots of “kung fu fighting” (is everybody else too young to remember that song?). Alana is a tough, fighting, feminist heroine, and her friend Hoku makes a good contrast with his techie/geek personality.
The blurb asks, “Will Aluna’s warrior spirit and Hoku’s intelligence be enough not only to keep themselves safe but also to find a way to save their city and possibly the world?”

I’m going to start keeping count. In the middle grade fantasies I’m reading, how many of them portray the girl (protagonist) as the tough, fighting leader and rescuer and the boy (if there is one) as the gentle or confused or phlegmatic sidekick in need of rescuing? I think it’s a trend, but maybe not.

Female leader/rescuer (12): Above World by Jenn Reese, The Book of Wonders by , Snow in Summer by Jane Yolen, Peaceweaver by Rebecca Barnhouse, Winterling by Sarah Prineas, Sword Mountain by Nancy Yi Fan, The Cabinet of Earths by Anne Nesbet, Renegade Magic by Stephanie Burgis, Mr. and Mrs. Bunny: Detectives Extarordinaire by Polly Horvath, Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz, Ordinary Magic by Caitlin Rubino-Bradway, Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy by Nikki Loftin.

Male leader/rescuer (9): Rock of Ivanore by Laurisa White Reyes, Goblin Secrets by William Alexander, The False Prince by Jennifer Nielsen, Neversink by Barry Wolverton, Cold Cereal by Adam Rex, The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy, The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, The Unwanteds: Island of Silence by Lisa McMann, Twice Upon a Time by James Riley.

Equally strong male and female protagonists (4): Time Snatchers by Richard Ungar, Storybound by Marissa Burt, Circus Galacticus by Deva Fagan, The Brightworking by Paul B. Thompson.

The girls are winning so far.

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