I don’t read a lot of science fiction anymore* but recently picked up Skywatchers by Carrie Arcos. It’s a YA sci-fi novel, solid enough to recommend to anyone / any age. I got lost in this book, drawn in by the story, the characters, and the imaginative worlds created by the talented author.
The story goes back and forth in time and is told from the perspectives of each of the central characters. While it’s fiction, it is built on a strong foundation of truth and fact. It’s set in 1952 – post WWII and at the beginning of the Cold War. A group of high school kids in Monterey, California volunteer as civilian skywatchers, their job simply to keep an eye on the coast looking for Russian or other enemy planes on the attack.
This was real: from 1952-58 the Operation Skywatch program had around 750,000 volunteers. They worked in shifts, on observation platforms or towers, ready to pick up the phone and report in if they saw a suspicious aircraft.
UFO sightings were also starting to become more common at this time, catching the attention of people who were fascinated by the idea, and scaring those who feared alien races bent on attacking Earth.
There are seven in the Monterey skywatcher group: John and Teddy, friends and athletes; Eleanor and Caroline, best friends; Frank and Oscar, science fiction enthusiasts and Bunny the brainy New York City transplant.
Arcos displays so much heart and understanding of teens through her writing. Her bio indicates she was a high school teacher and she’s clearly observant and empathetic. I had flashes of Stephen King at times while reading Skywatchers – the dialog and inner thoughts ring true in a special way.
The story gets going when Caroline spots something strange, an aircraft looking and behaving differently than anything she was trained to recognize. The group tracks it over the ocean, over their heads and into the woods where it crashes. They investigate and four of the seven go missing (Frank and Oscar and Eleanor ditched the shift early and aren’t there.)
When three of them return after a few days the story starts to get really interesting. They don’t remember much at first, but they’ve changed in surprising ways. Little by little they recall more of what happened and realize that it’s up to them to go back and save Teddy who hasn’t returned.
Skywatchers begins with a two-page prologue then goes right into Chapter 1. As I turned the page on Chapter 32 I was delighted to read ‘In the Woods’ on the next page. Ooh! The last 100 pages tell what happened and wow, it’s incredible.
Carrie Arcos has quite an imagination – she created an alien race called the Ruu and a parallel Earth for Skywatchers. And she deftly wove into her story a lesson about Japanese Americans and how they were treated during World War II. John’s family is of Japanese heritage and they were all forced to move to internment camps during the war. The scars from that time run deep and John has plenty of feelings about it. I really enjoyed John’s character and felt for him and his family.
Overall, I had fun reading Skywatchers. It has a quickly moving plot, characters I care about and unexpected twists to keep it interesting. Even the cover is cool! I googled a little about the author and book, which was published in August 2020, and found out it’s been optioned for a movie. I’ll watch it for sure. I want to believe.
*The exception: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch which was on my best books of 2020 list. Fantastic mix of sci-fi, romance, parallel universes and the power of love. https://amzn.to/2SSlwvA
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