Suffice it to say I'm feeling quite apologetic for not getting this review posted sooner.
But without further ado, here it is:
Kevin Emerson's The Fellowship for Alien Detection is a strong, standalone middle grade novel (although I could see a sequel happening). While it is quite long for middle-grade (over 400 pages), the pacing is such that it never really drags. There are lulls in the action, but I appreciated the lulls because it gave the characters time to think and reflect instead of having them rush through a bunch of action sequences.
The two main characters, Haley and Francis ("Dodger") are typical middle-schoolers in different ways. Haley wants to get away from her boring home life and find an adventure. Dodger just wants to find a place where he fits in.
When the kids win a Fellowship based on their research of possible alien visitations, they convince their family members to go along for the ride. Starting at either end of the U.S., both kids struggle with how much they tell their families and how much they should keep secret. Because aliens are real, and close by, and what parents are going to let their kids get close to an extraterrestrial?
The story also focuses on one Suza Raines...one of The Missing. She wakes up every morning with a distinct feeling that something is 'off'. And then something goes wrong. And the day starts all over again.
The book is somewhat about identity (who am I/why am I here?), somewhat about family (acceptance, affection, and trust), and a little bit about how small we are in the universe. The themes are age appropriate for middle school while never being heavy-handed. There was one conversation I thought would start heading that direction but it cut off and gave you food for thought instead of completing the sentence, as it were.
I also liked that there was a hint of romance, but it didn't completely materialize. Again, age appropriate. Also, there was stuff to do, like save the planet from aliens. So, you know. No time for kisses.
There was a shocking twist (at least, I thought it shocking) that in the aftermath, made sense. It deepened one family's backstory and made them more sympathetic.
While there are characters who aren't as fleshed out as others, that was the only thing I noticed that I wasn't 100% happy with -- but most of the characters are unique, with at least some backstory.
All in all, this is a fun, entertaining read without being too light. There are themes I connected with (the search for identity), the characters were a delight to read about, and the conclusion was satisfying without being tied up with a pretty bow.
If you like middle-grade or YA sci-fi novels, definitely give this one a chance.