What really happened in 1947 when a newspaper reported that an alien disk had crashed in the desert near Corona and Roswell? While the US government first reported that they had captured a spacecraft and the news was on the front page of many newspapers, the story quickly changed. It was all a mistake, the government said. The “spacecraft” was really a weather balloon.
But many people don’t believe that, and many people had already seen the strange metal pieces with even stranger purple markings. In “The Truth About Martians,” Melissa Savage decides to write about what might have happened if some children nearby not only saw the spaceship but decided to investigate the crash. What if they raced out there and arrived before the military came and swept up everything and hushed it all up?
The main character is Mylo, who explains that he is not brave at all. It was his older brother, Obie, who was the brave one. Obie died and Mylo is still trying to outrun the “gray” that seems to chase him everywhere with its sadness. He sometimes feels the “gray” in others who have experienced a similar loss. His best friend, Dibs, has his own sadness that comes from having an abusive alcoholic father. Dibs spends a lot of time with Mylo and his family. Third in this group is Gracie, the beautiful and intelligent girl whom many of the boys have a crush on.
One of the very best things about this story — besides the actual UFO — is the wonderful manner in which Savage creates likable and realistic characters. Each character is not perfect, each character has a different flaw (except perhaps Gracie), and each character manages to complement the others as they embark on their grand adventure into finding out who and what lives in space.
Middle grade readers will enjoy the humor and jokes about smelly feet and gas. But they will also appreciate the very real friendship between Dibs and Mylo. Some will be able to sympathize with Mylo as he and his family continue to mourn the loss of his older brother, and the fact that certain things, like Obie’s bed and catcher’s mitt, are off limits to everyone else.
But as in all good literature, Mylo changes over the course of the story. He learns that while superheroes in comics are wonderful to read about, he just might have the courage to do important things without any super power. Mylo has something that all kids need to read about — a sense of right and wrong and a huge desire to do the right thing.
The book begins slowly with the arrival of the UFO and a lot of character development and slowly builds to the actual action that takes place toward the end of the novel. It’s a great story for reading aloud and discussing especially in terms of Dibs and his horrible family situation. Mylo’s parents try to help, and his mother is always saying that she does what she can, but does she do enough? What would be enough? What should have been done?
One of the characters is an older man who lives alone and is feared by the children in town. It turns out that he is also mourning the loss of his family, and there could be a great class discussion about how, years after a tragic event, some people seem permanently affected, and how they might be helped or understood better. Savage also writes a great scene in which Mylo explains that when his brother died, the only ones who talked to him frankly about Obie were other kids, and they said the things that mattered most to him. Instead of platitudes like, “He’s in a better place,” kids shared, “He was the best catcher I knew,” and simply, “Sorry your brother is dead.”
Adults and kids alike will enjoy the Author’s Note where Savage explains that she visited Roswell and Corona to research the story. She explains what happened and what the locals — years later — admitted they had seen during that controversial and mysterious event. It’s fascinating, and it might just make kids want to research the topic further.
Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by Crown Books for Young Readers, the publisher, for review purposes.