The Darkness Outside Us

HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen. Jun. 2021. 416p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062888280.
Gr 9 Up–This deep-space survival story, with a strong gay romance and notes of horror, will appeal to fans of Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff’s Illuminae. Ambrose wakes up on a ship with no memory of the launch. He knows he was selected to pilot the rescue mission to save his sister, who tripped her emergency beacon on Saturn’s moon Titan. He has no memory of the Fédération teaming up with their enemies to send two spacefarers on the mission. With no contact from Earth, bronze-skinned Ambrose, 17, and Kodiak, 18, with olive-toned skin, work their way into a détente and then to something more. They realize the spaceship’s operating system is not being honest with them—not about their missing memories or about their mission. Ambrose’s dry humor and confidence create a page-turning narrative that carries readers through its slower moments. Schrefer uses the cyclical nature of the plot to turn tables, amplifying fears and piling on the impossibilities, ultimately pulling together a satisfying—if not explosive—climax. Schrefer balances the romance of the novel (Ambrose is pansexual and Kodiak is attracted to men) with the intricate science behind space travel and survival. Readers may find that much of Ambrose’s humor, which carries the novel pre-climax, disappears and the ending is less satisfying for its absence. A content warning for self-harm and suicide is applicable, though the romance remains intact.
VERDICT A secondary general purchase, though recommended anywhere voracious sci-fi readers can be found. Readers who like accurate science in their fiction will not be disappointed.

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