Twelve-year-old Hope lives in White Rock, a town of inventors struggling to recover from the green bombs of World War III. But Hope is terrible at inventing and would much rather sneak off to cliff dive into the Bomb’s Breath—the deadly band of compressed air that covers the crater left by the bombs—than fail at yet another invention. When bandits discover that White Rock has priceless antibiotics, they invade. With a two-day deadline to finish making this year’s batch and no ingredients to make more, the town is left to choose whether to hand over the medicine and die from the disease that’s run rampant since the bombs, or die fighting the bandits now. Help lies in a neighboring town, but the bandits count everyone fourteen and older each hour. Hope and her friends Aaren and Brock might be the only ones who can escape to make the dangerous trek through the Bomb’s Breath and over the snow-covered mountain. For once, inventing isn’t the answer, but the daring and recklessness that usually get Hope into trouble might just save them all.
Sky Jumpers (Sky Jumpers #1)Featured
Sky Jumpers reminds me a lot of Z for Zachariah. Now, if you haven't read the latter, let me enlighten you. It's set in a post-apocalyptic landscape, in which a young girl is living in what may be the one safe valley from all the pollution. Things aren't quite that bad in Sky Jumpers, but there's Bomb's Breath, a thicker, deadly gas all around. One breath of it and you're dead. There's a similar sense of isolation in Sky Jumpers, only there are whole towns, not the one teenage girl alone.
However, much like that teenage girl was beset by a deranged man who wanted her supplies, Hope's town is attacked by nefarious bandits. Due to the adults underestimating children, Hope and her friends are the town's only hope and have to face off against an enemy way above their skill level. This basic story works really well as an introduction to post-apocalyptic fiction for young readers, capturing some of the bleakness without getting into anything overly terrible or dark.
The actual sky jumping is pretty cool. Basically, Hope and her friends figured out that you can walk through Bomb's Breath as long as you don't breathe. Also, sense it's denser, you can jump off a cliff, go through a cloud of it, and land safely in breathable air down below. The kids are daring in a way that the adults aren't, and it does sound like the kind of stupidly dangerous thing children might do.
Hope and her friends are fun characters, and, as ever, it's a delight to read about the focus on friendship and family in middle grade fiction. I particularly like Brock's character, and how much they learned about him as the novel went along. By the way, I totally ship Brock/Hope, even if middle grade ships make me feel a liiiitle bit creepy.
What Left Me Wanting More:
Where the book lost me was in the inventions. Hope's town forces everyone to be an inventor and, if you suck at it, like Hope does, everyone will judge you and be really mean. Apparently they know enough about the past to want inventions because they know things were better, but not enough to have great ideas of what to make and how to go about it. Also, it just seems like a horrible foundation for a society to force everyone into a scientific path when everyone isn't wired that way. The fact that Hope was the only one who was so bad at inventing was totally not believable to me. Plus, I don't really feel like it advanced the larger narrative; it felt more like a way to make Hope the outcast and underdog, and then give a message about everyone having different strengths. That's a good message, but the execution here is clunky.
The Final Verdict:
Sky Jumpers is an excellent choice for younger readers curious about post-apocalyptic fiction, but worried that YA ones might be too dark and scary. It's definitely much less upsetting than Z for Zachariah, which I remember seeing on reading lists in elementary school, and which creeped me out as an adult. It might be more hit or miss with older readers.