Kids Read: Atherton is Unforgettable, Exciting Story 5/24/07

In the shadow of what was once the planet earth (now known as The Dark Planet) is the intriguing world of Atherton. This is a planet made up of three levels, each spiraling upward like a layered cake and sided by jagged rocks with a steep incline. On Atherton, water is the most valuable source of life and is controlled by the House of Power on the uppermost part known as the Highlands. On the second level, the Tabletop, are the workers who labor tirelessly in the fields of fig trees and live under the strict rule of their cruel supervisor. The bottom level is the mysterious Flatlands where the dangerous, always hungry beasts known as the “Cleaners” live.Atherton thrives with this setup: the wealthy top-livers giving orders, indulging in their powers and riches; the Tabletop area living a day-to-day existence of hard work with little rewards; and the bottom wastelands is the place where no one goes — and if they do, they never come back.It is in the groves of healthy-growing fig trees where we first meet 11-year old Edgar. This young boy is ever-curious with an abundance of energy (despite the scare rations) that allows him to scale the steep walls of rock as he explores the world around him. Edgar is actually in search of something. Is it a dream or possibly a memory from long ago? He climbs because he is driven to discover this “something,” and when he finds it he will know what to do from there. But, because of the many restrictions on the laborers, any climbing he does has to be done in secret.One day, Edgar makes an amazing discovery when he finds a book wedged behind some of the rocks leading up to the Highlands. He immediately knows that this is part of the puzzle of his life and the mysteries surrounding Atherton. Determined to explore more, and unable to read the book, Edgar scales the rocky walls and gets to the Tabletop area. Unexpectedly he finds another boy close to his own age, Samuel, who becomes a best friend and is willing to read the precious pages to Edgar. None of these things are easy to accomplish because if either boy is caught, it could mean death. No one is allowed to travel between the levels of Atherton because there are secrets everywhere. Before Edgar is able to hear all the pages that seem to foretell the future of Atherton, the trembling and shaking that have been increasing on the planet magnify, and it is soon obvious to everyone that the three realms are beginning to merge dangerously. This is a catastrophic situation — even more so for those in charge of the water and the House of Power. Suddenly, their supremacy is threatened and they wage a vicious war on the laborers. They are more than surprised to discover that the laborers know how to fight back (thanks, in great part, to a young girl named Isabele who uses a kind of slingshot device and has taught the adults around her this skill).Edgar must make his way downward and into the wasteland world of the Flatlands where he almost loses his life from his injuries and encounter with the monstrous Cleaners. He is saved by the kindly Vincent and also meets his ultimate mentor, Dr. Kincaid, who knows many of the secrets surrounding their sinister planet. Edgar is as surprised as anyone that there are people in this area and excited that, with their help, perhaps Atherton can be saved. Dr. Kincaid tells him that Atherton has been created by a mad scientist named Dr. Harding. But there is so much more to learn, and in the time being there is a race against time because Atherton is in the process of being destroyed.A very helpful supplement at the end of the book, “Data Flow of Dr. Harding’s Brain,” gives detailed information on the history and characters found in the Atherton world. Even more fun are the links provided for online interaction. The author’s homepage is filled with video clips, interviews and great graphic activities. Kids will love this!Patrick Carman has given us an exciting story with an unforgettable and frightening picture of the possibilities of man’s future. The black and white illustrations are beautifully done in the style of Dr. Frankenstein’s notebooks (some of Carman’s inspiration). Like Nancy Farmer or Scott Westerfeld, this tale examines some of the environmental issues that threaten our world today. Readers will be eager for part two of this sure-to-be highly popular series. — Reviewed by Sally M. Tibbetts (

Patrick Carman