A plane-crash, weird birds, and a group of teenagers with an anti-gravity device…

Horizon

By Scott Westerfeld

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Team Killbot, a talented group of high-school students, is headed to Japan for the Robot Soccer World Championships when their plane crashes under mysterious circumstances. The teens, find themselves alone in a strange place, with flora and fauna they don’t recognize. Have they been transported to another planet? Where did the strange device they find in the plane’s cargo hold come from? What will they eat? Where will they find water? What dangers lurk in the woods that surround the damaged aircraft? The team must work together to solve these problems while searching for a way home.


Initial Thoughts

This story hits the ground running, and let’s just say… cliffhanger! I can’t wait to read part two of this story. Read in under twelve hours, this book was a joy to read. Each chapter is told from the perspective of one of four main characters: Javi, Molly, Anna, or Yoshi. You get just enough detail about the backstory of these characters to understand a little more about how they think without being burdened with unnecessary detail.

One thing that I thought was interesting about the characters in this story was that they pushed one another to think things through. Although they were continually correcting one another, they encouraged each other to approach the challenges they faced by asking questions and through experimentation. Some characters would carefully think through the options before offering a suggestion, while others were willing to take more significant risks, plunging forward into the unknown. The challenge of surviving out in the elements where nearly everything around them looked foreign, forced them to evaluate the risks and in some cases pay a heavy price for missteps.


Quotes and Other Thoughts

Molly stared at her. “So why exactly did you tell Caleb it [the anti-gravity device] was broken?”

“Yeah,” Javi said.. “Way to make me look like a liar.”

“But in certain situations, lying is okay. Like not telling people when their haircut looks bad, or preventing dangerous technology from falling into the wrong hands.”

p.61

What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this one in the comments below. Is it ever OK to tell a lie? Why or why not?

Leap in, or admit you aren’t up to it. Don’t dither like a coward.

p.69 (Yoshi’s Father)

If you heard this from your father, would you be motivated to take action?

We don’t really get to know Yoshi’s father in this story, but we do know that he has very high expectations of his son. Yoshi struggles with this. Yoshi perceives his father as being very hard on him, and perhaps he is. I don’t necessarily disagree with his father, but maybe he could work on the delivery of his encouragement. I think it’s the second part of this quote that needs the most work. Yoshi’s father would have come across as far less caustic had he left out the part about Yoshi being a coward.

They saw everything as a puzzle to be solved, which kept them focused, instead of worrying about the fact that none of them might ever make it home.

p.104

When problem-solving, do you jump right to the conclusion, or do you carefully break the problem down into manageable action steps?

I can relate to this quote to some degree. My coworkers and I face many challenges each day at work. If we allowed ourselves to be caught up in the emotion of each problem, we would quickly be overcome. Instead, we have to see each challenge like the kids in this story saw their challenges. It’s important to remove enough emotion from your problems so that you can think clearly and make the best decision based on the information available. Becoming overly emotional can cloud our judgment and slow our ability to make rational decisions. The kids in the story tried to break their problems down into smaller chunks that they could take action on, instead of trying to figure everything out all at once.

Yoshi sighed. These engineers were good at conjectures and theories, but they weren’t very good at stories. He suspected they were too coolheaded to understand anger and revenge.

p.107

Is it wrong to be emotional? Is it wrong to remove emotion and to think clinically?

Yoshi recognized that there is a gray here. If you sterilize every situation too much, you might not account for some variable born out of emotion. The kids are discussing why they were the ones that survived the crash. Was it random chance that the plane crashed and they alone survived or were they singled out?

“That’s a kick-butt thing about humans,” Anna said.”We eat and drink poisonous stuff for fun.”

p.114

What do you eat or drink that you probably shouldn’t? Why?

OK, so this one’s rhetorical – I just thought the quote was funny and so true! Why do we do this to ourselves? Pop/soda, coffee, energy drinks, pizza, potato chips, processed foods – too much of these things can really harm our bodies, yet many of us (me included – I’m not trying to say that I’m not guilty of this…) imbibe/ingest these things every day.

Horizon isn’t a health textbook. It isn’t going to tell you what you should or shouldn’t eat. I just laughed out loud when I read this quote in the book, and I really wanted to share it with you.

[Anna] Evolution was like a gazillion microprocessors—one inside every living cell—all running slight variations of their DNA code at the same time, seeking out the best results. It was bound to be complicated.

p.114

Really? That sounds scientific.

[Yoshi] “They’re engineers. They’re curious.”
[Kira] “Engineers aren’t curious,” she said. “They’re cautious. That’s why bridges don’t fall down. Mostly.”

p.129

What would you say is the difference between “curious” and “cautious”?

I think that being curious often results in one taking risks. The risks may be calculated (dare I say, cautious), but the nature of being curious usually means that a person will try different things to see what the results are.

I really do think that people can be both curious and cautious, but those that are heavy on the cautious side of the spectrum will not allow their curiosity to cause them to act in a way that puts themselves or others at risk unnecessarily.

Kira shrugged. “I don’t have to know English to understand them. They think they’re smarter than everyone else. That’s why they talk everything to death.”

p.130

We all know someone who acts like they are the smartest person in the world. How do you respond to these people?

Is that really what Team Killbot thought – that they were smarter than everyone else?

Interestingly, I think that there may be a personality element to this. People who are introverts (people like me – I’m an INFJ) tend to think things through quietly. While we think, others might perceive us in different ways. Some might see us as being arrogant. Others might see us as being disengaged because they can’t see the work that is being done in our minds.

I don’t think Kira was judging the other kids correctly. I believe that her perception was that the Team Killbot kids like the sounds of their own voices, so they just kept talking and talking and talking. Or perhaps, she saw their discussions as an effort to continually outdo one another or to show that they had something valuable to offer. I’ll admit, I’ve done that before – speak up in a way that says, “Hey, I’m smart too…” For me personally, that type of behavior comes from a desire to be included in the conversation or to feel like I have something valuable to offer as the group comes up with a solution to the problem being discussed.

Oliver stood there, waiting for more, and Javi wondered if he wanted the truth. The kid had fought hard to make them all stop sugarcoating things. Maybe it was time to talk to him straight.

p.233

Do you sugarcoat things when talking to someone who is several years younger than you, particularly if you think doing so will save them from emotional pain?

Here again, I believe that individual personalities will affect how you respond in this type of situation. If you answered “yes,” perhaps you need to practice being a little more direct. If you answered “no,” it might be a good idea to learn how to soften the blow a little.

Oliver was a bit of a mystery to me. He is two years younger than the rest of the members of Team Killbot, and all throughout the story, the “older” kids treated Oliver like a child. They tried to protect him not only physically, but emotionally. Molly, in particular, was very careful how she phrased things around Oliver. I felt like they were trying to protect him from hearing any bad news or anything that might be scary.

I remember, as a kid, a two-year gap in age seemed quite large. Now, as an adult, two years is nothing. Oliver undoubtedly noticed that he was being “handled” and finally he expressed that he’d had enough.


What you will find in this book

This section may reflect my personal opinions on the content of this book. You may feel differently, but I list these things to help you to quickly determine whether or not this book might be a good read for your child.

  • Language (e.g., cursing): None
  • Age-appropriate relationships (e.g., romance, etc.): Although the characters in this book are all in their teenage years, Westerfeld avoids creating romantic situations between characters. The closest thing to any type of mention of romance was a line or two of inner dialogue where Anna was admiring Yoshi’s skill with the katana. Don’t worry, your kids won’t catch any cooties by reading this book.
  • Tone (how the characters speak to/treat each other): As mentioned earlier, the older kids seemed to talk down to Oliver, though it wasn’t intended to be unkind. They simply viewed him as a younger, emotionally fragile friend, and they tailored their words to, in a sense, coddle him. There is another character in the book (Caleb) that is older than most of Team Killbot. His tone is typically born of skepticism. He has a hard time accepting that younger kids might have the knowledge or expertise to help them survive in a harsh environment. In spite of this, he is never a bully to them. For the most part, all of the dialogue is representative of a group of brilliant and responsible teenagers who have become the victims of a plane crash. Overall, I don’t think you’ll find anything objectionable in the tone of this book.
  • Other Sensitive Topics: None

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