One reason I really love being a Cybils panelist is that I am prompted to read so many books I might otherwise not choose to read. And many of them I end up liking. Tesla's Attic by Neal Shusterman and Eric Elfman is one of these. While nothing ground-breaking or amazing, it is a good solid MG science-fiction novel, just the sort I love being able to recommend to kids.
After their home burns down, fourteen-year-old Nick, his younger brother, and their father move into a ramshackle Victorian house they've inherited. When Nick opens the door to his attic room, he's hit in the head by a toaster. That's just the beginning of his weird experiences with the old junk stored up there. After getting rid of the odd antiques in a garage sale, Nick befriends some local kids-Mitch, Caitlin, and Vincent-and they discover that all of the objects have extraordinary properties. What's more, Nick figures out that the attic is a strange magnetic vortex, which attracts all sorts of trouble. It's as if the attic itself has an intelligence . . . and a purpose.
Ultimately Nick learns that the genius Nikola Tesla placed the items-his last inventions-in the attic as part of a larger plan that he mathematically predicted. Nick and his new friends must retrieve everything that was sold at the garage sale and keep it safe. But the task is fraught with peril-in addition to the dangers inherent in Tesla's mysterious and powerful creations, a secret society of physicists, the Accelerati, is determined to stop Nick and alter destiny to achieve its own devious ends. It's a lot for a guy to handle, especially when he'd much rather fly under the radar as the new kid in town.
Nick is new in town. His mother died in a tragic fire. His father is drifting in grief. He needs something good to happen to him. Instead he gets a bunch of weird household items that he sells at a garage sale, and then realizes have unreal, possibly dangerous properties. Most readers will be able to relate to Nick's desire to fit in and fly under the middle school radar. At the same time, Nick has an insatiable curiosity about the items and is drawn irresistibly into the sort of adventure and intrigue it's great to experience through the pages of a book. The cast of supporting characters is well done as well. I enjoyed Caitlin's varied personality and activities and how deep her feelings were portrayed. Mitch's characters also well layered and strong. The villains in the book are mysterious and dangerous. I liked how realistically dangerous they are. The are willing to go to any length to get to what they want, and don't just talk a good talk. They do nefarious things.
The plot draws the reader in and contains much adventure and intrigue. There is a lot of sneaking around, investigating behind the adults backs, and bonding over odd occurrences for the main characters. The danger is real and has real consequences. At times the action is a bit overblown, but it fits within the context of the novel. The humor is sly and understated. One issue I had was how fast the action at the end of the book moved despite the dire events that were occurring. This is one in a long line of books that have released lately in which Tesla and his inventions play a major role. As does the vilifying of Thomas Edison. It's an interesting little trend, but for many of the target audience, this will be the first introduction to Tesla they get. It is one that may prompt them to want to know more.
This book is a fun read and one that kids who enjoy adventure and sci-fi will enjoy.