First, this book was great, and I’m reminded of my oft-forgotten intention to find more Sleator. If you like Stine, but want a slightly older and more sci-fi bent, then you’ll love his books. I read Singularity years ago and kept an eye out for my own copy to buy ever since, which I picked up just recently. I found THE BOXES in a Shoprite used book sale-I think the money goes towards food kitchens-and immediately grabbed it.
Second, I should mention that, for those of us who were around for the whole development of the home computer as a luxury to laptop as a necessity concept, there are a few points in this book where you’ll be going ‘Ha! I remember that.’ A secretary has a laptop, but the main characters can’t afford home computers. A fair few times, Annie, the protagonist, has no idea how to contact anyone who could help her, because cell phones aren’t something she even seems aware of. She has to look up someone’s number in the phone book. It never takes you out of the story-or at least, it didn’t for me-but I don’t know how someone who grew up around cell phones would react.
Also, I have to reiterate something I’ve said multiple times-I love YA sci-fi and fantasy because they are often much more creative than adult novels. Sure, there’s often a romance-gotta train people to expect that in every single piece of mass media, obviously!-but it doesn’t always derail the plot like it does in other works. Annie reacts to a boy with a crush on her in a very commonplace way-she ignores it because he’s one of her only friends. Even though they’re much closer by the end, it’s definitely not one of those ‘closes on a kiss’ endings. Actually, I’d probably be frustrated by the ending, if it didn’t work so well with the plot. I’ll just say that it’s open-ended but happy, and leave it at that.
Annie meets small scorpion-like creatures fairly early in the story, and it’s really fun to see their culture and her reactions. There was a scene later, when Annie is passing cubicles filled with people working late, where I could really see the parallels between the creatures’ society and even modern human society. Though Sleator doesn’t go into it much-the novel is 196 pages-you can tell that the creatures have their own culture and beliefs fully developed. When Annie doesn’t agree with the tenants of their religion, they listen just about as much as anyone does if you tell them their religion is wrong about something.
Finally, I should mention that if you don’t know Sleator’s books, I should warn you that there are parts that definitely push this book to the very edges of horror. The creatures are grotesque at points, in their actions if their image doesn’t bother you. There’s a great moral ambiguity to a lot of the creatures and people in this book, and, except for the evil real estate development company that feels like a return to 90s stand-by bad guys, I still don’t know whether Annie should have trusted everyone she did. Overall, there are a lot of questions left unanswered, but it manages to evoke a ‘the adventure continues’ vibe instead of too much frustration.