Saturday 17 December 2011

Hal Junior – The Secret Signal

Hal Junior – The Secret Signal  by Simon Haynes (Bowman Press Australia)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 978-1-877034-07-7
Reviewed by Emma Cameron

From the author of the YA Hal Spacejock series comes a junior science fiction novel in which Hal Junior, who idolises Captain Spacejock, is the hero. Hal lives aboard a futuristic space station where Dad “once told him about people washing with actual water” and the idea of washing in it or “sloshing it all over your plates to clean them was insane.” Hal’s story begins with him needing best mate, Stephen 'Stinky' Binn, to help him retrieve his homework from the recycling hatch. Sounds simple enough, except it requires tampering with the space station’s gravity controls. Very carefully.

A whole series of events is set off in which his teacher, a robot, is hijacked and Hal discovers a sinister plot that puts the entire space station in peril. The set-up, which includes Mum as chief scientist and Dad as maintenance man for the air filtration system, ensures all of Hal’s antics are plausible. My favourites include his use of a home-made space cannon, bungie-jumping with elastic shoelaces and Hal drifting about in space, uncertain whether he will be able to hook back up with his family and friends ever again.

The book also contains small line drawings and some funny visual jokes, particularly at the beginning of each chapter. The technical diagrams scattered throughout, many of them explaining concepts in the text, add further interest. There are even plans for readers to follow that produce the world’s most acrobatic paper plane; the one Hal’s homework was written on the back of when it sort of accidently flew down the recycling hatch (which is what started the whole story).

Young readers are likely to be quickly drawn in by the likeable character of Hal. He is adventurous, fun, and a little cheeky, but always hopes to ensure that only fairness prevails. Being a hero, he manages to save all. Packed with danger and tension, as well as humour and sweetness, his story is highly recommended for confident readers in upper primary. 

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