The Disasters by M.K. England [REVIEW]

Cover of The Disasters by M.K. England surrounded by black adn white artwork of a spaceship and stars

The Disasters by M.K. England

Genre and Themes Young Adult / Science Fiction / Friendship / LGBT+
Pages ​352
Published December 18th, 2018  
Publisher HarperCollins
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Hotshot pilot Nax Hall has a history of making poor life choices. So it’s not exactly a surprise when he’s kicked out of the elite Ellis Station Academy in less than twenty-four hours.

But Nax’s one-way trip back to Earth is cut short when a terrorist group attacks the Academy. Nax and three other washouts escape—barely—but they’re also the sole witnesses to the biggest crime in the history of space colonization. And the perfect scapegoats.

On the run and framed for atrocities they didn’t commit, Nax and his fellow failures execute a dangerous heist to spread the truth about what happened at the Academy.

They may not be “Academy material,” and they may not get along, but they’re the only ones left to step up and fight. (via Goodreads)

Stand out main character and voice

From the very beginning of the book, I loved Nax Hall’s voice and character. He’s described in all of the blurbs as a “hotshot pilot” but that doesn’t give a complete insight into his character. He’s confident on the outside but always deeply worried that he doesn’t actually know what he’s doing. He jokes and sasses as a way to keep everyone from getting discouraged and is always mindful and caring about his newly found crew. I’ve been waiting so long for a first-person narrative that has as much character and voice as this book. Nax has a wonderful voice and he added so much humor and emotion to the book.

Every cell in my body says “Oh, god, yes! Crime? I can do some crime!” I want this ship like I’ve never wanted anything in my life. I had a poster of the first-ever Breakbolt model on my bedroom wall when I was nine. It’s like a manifestation of every dream I’ve ever had, everything I’ve ever wanted for myself: a piloting license, a beautiful ship under me, and stars out the viewport. Child Nax says, “Do it, do the crime!”

​​Diverse and dynamic found family

This book was wonderfully diverse. The main cast is made up of characters who are bisexual, gay, transgender, Muslim, Black, Latinx, and mentally ill. As far as I could tell every identity was well researched and respectfully written and the diversity added so much to the story. One thing I very much enjoyed is that this book is almost entirely devoid of any homophobia, racism, or sexism. Aside from one scene recounting a character’s past where she experienced transphobia, all of these identities are fully accepted and celebrated throughout the story.

The whole cast formed a clumsy, yet loving, found family dynamic reminiscent of the Guardians of the Galaxy or Firefly crews and I loved every moment of it. Although they didn’t always get along or agree, they all cared deeply for each other and their dynamics were heartwarming and hilarious. I especially loved that the main character, Nax, tended to be the peacemaker of the group. This gave the other characters a chance to be emotional and impulsive while still keeping the story on track. The scenes where Nax took the role of the crew’s captain and got everyone to work together were some of my favorite moments of the story.

Real teens and real stakes

I think one of the strongest parts of this book was how realistically it portrayed being a teen, even when the story was so out-of-this-world. Too many young adult SFF books portray teens as just mini-adults who always know exactly what to do and are able to keep a perfectly level head while they do it. This was a book that really felt like it was written for teens. From the strong emotions the characters feel when things start to go wrong to the jokes they crack and the conversations they have with each other, each character felt strong and realistic. Were they all exceptional and skilled? Yes. But that didn’t take away from the fact that they were also scared, overwhelmed, and confused. This portrayal of character also helped give the book really strong suspense and stakes. As a reader, I was never sure if they were actually going to succeed because all the characters were so untested and unsure. This kept the book intense and interesting.

“Anything have any better ideas? Useful diversion tactics?”
“I’ve been told I’m a hell of a dancer,” Rion says. “You find me a table, I’ll create a diversion you won’t forget.”
I bark a laugh. This is going to go so well.
But also, yes, the table dancing. Let’s make that happen.

Plans vs. skills

One sort of unique thing that I loved about this book is the reliance on clever plans. Although the characters were all very skilled in their individual talents, they often did not succeed by their skill alone. They ended up finding clever and smart solutions and making plans to thwart the bad guys. Not only did this give the book much more of the “heist story” feel that I love, but it also evened out the playing field. In YA, it tends to get a bit unrealistic when unexperienced teens repeatedly thwart the plans of evil adults. This book really worked around that by using the character’s plans, not their pure skills, to give them the edge.

​This book ended up being one of my favorites of 2018 and will always hold a place in my heart. Anyone looking for diverse SFF books or who wants to try sci-fi for the first time should definitely pick this one up.

a 5-star rating

An Advance Reader Copy was provided from the publisher for review. All quotes in this review are from an advance copy of the book and may be altered in the finished copy

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