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The Plot: Waverly Marshall, 15, and Kieran Alden, 16, are two of the oldest children on the space ship Empyrean. The Empyrean (along with its sister ship, the New Horizon) are full of settlers on their way to a new planet, leaving old Earth behind.
Children are important on Empyrean. Initially, there had been problems with the settlers conceiving, so now nothing is as important as their children and those who can have children having children. Waverly feels the societal pressure to marry Kieran and began having the children that will ensure their future; Waverly does love Kieran — she thinks. He is a catch, being groomed to be a captain, an important person on the Empyrean. Who wouldn’t want him? Kieran thinks everything is settling into place; he has a future, he has respect, he has Waverly. The future is all it should be.
Until the ship New Horizon is seen outside the Empyrean’s windows. New Horizon is supposed to be ahead of them; to see that ship means it has deviated from the flight plan. It means something must be wrong.
Something is wrong. More wrong than Waverly, Kieran, or anyone else can imagine.
The Good: This is classic science fiction, with a space ship and everything! Two spaceships, even! As can be seen from Waverly’s last name, there are allusions to another group of pilgrims. It’s not just the names; religion is significant, with one group religious and the other group secular.
Something happens — something pretty bad. It is surprising and shocking and world-altering. Waverly and Kieran, their friends and family are tested in unbelievable ways. It happens pretty early in the book, and it sets everything in motion. It is also the beginning of wisdom, as Waverly and Kieran begin to learn of the secrets that were kept from them.
Glow is plot driven, yes; there are attacks, battles, escapes, some very tough choices being made; but Glow is also an examination of character. Neither the inhabitants of Empyrean nor New Horizon are perfect or innocent. Bad things happen, people do terrible things, and if there is one overriding theme it is about how power corrupts.
How to talk about the characters without revealing too many of the twists and turns of the plot?
Waverly is a terrific character; she’s smart, she’s driven, she’s moral. I wish I could say the same for Kieran, but the truth is I never quite warmed to him. Yes, he’s smart; yes, he’s driven; and yes, he sees himself as moral and responsible. In the beginning, he is not so much arrogant as overly self confident. He’s the type who wants to be in charge, wants to be the leader, but when push comes to shove doesn’t quite know what to do or how to lead. What he does know is he doesn’t like someone else being in charge. Kieran’s someone who, I think, believes his own press; now when he is in a situation where he has to live up to his own hype, he finds it’s not as easy as he thought.
Waverly, on the other side, is a leader because of what she does, not because of who she wants to be. She’s not operating under the same baggage as Kieran about who she should be.
There is another possible love interest for Waverly, Seth Ardvale. What is fascinating about Seth is that he is more of a leader than Kieran, but he has a dark side. I’m not sure if Seth is jealous of Kieran, or is reacting to having a father who is a bit dismissive towards him, but it means that Seth may be a better leader than Kieran but is not an ideal leader. I say “love interest,” but it’s very light love interest. More like — a possibility.
I love that I didn’t like either Kieran or Seth; both young men are flawed and full of potential, both good and bad. It’s pretty gutsy of Ryan to create such “question mark” characters for the two main male characters. A question mark hangs over both their heads. Which way will they go? Good or bad?
About Elizabeth Burns
Looking for a place to talk about young adult books? Pull up a chair, have a cup of tea, and let's chat. I am a New Jersey librarian. My opinions do not reflect those of my employer, SLJ, YALSA, or anyone else. On Twitter I'm @LizB; my email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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