Bloom by Kenneth Oppel science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsBloom by Kenneth Oppel

Bloom by Kenneth Oppel science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsThree kids battle an invasive plant in Kenneth Oppel’s latest middle grade fantasy. Bloom (2020) is mysterious and thrilling all the way through. Our heroes are:

  • Anaya, who’s allergic to almost everything.
  • Petra, who’s allergic to water. She used to be Anaya’s best friend until Anaya betrayed her.
  • Seth, the new kid in town who’s being fostered by farmers.

When black weeds appear suddenly and grow tall overnight, nobody knows what they are, even Anaya’s botanist father. The townsfolk pull out and chop down the weeds but they just come back the next day. Nothing kills them.

It’s soon discovered that these weeds are growing all over the planet and causing severe allergic reactions. People are wearing face masks to protect themselves from the pollen, but so many are still ending up in the hospital, overburdening the healthcare system. Makeshift tent hospitals are appearing. Adults can’t go to work. The world economy shrinks. Famine is a real danger if an effective herbicide isn’t discovered soon.

People are starting to think the plant is a biological weapon, but who created it? The answer may lie in the DNA of our heroes, the three kids who happen to be immune to the plant’s toxic effects and are, in fact, healthier than ever. Can scientists study them to get clues about the origins of the invasive species? Can they use their blood to make a vaccine?

Kenneth Oppel

Kenneth Oppel

Bloom is a fast-paced and exciting thriller with likeable but slightly under-developed protagonists. The story would have benefited from a few more tension-relieving respites where we could get to know and love our heroes better. I appreciated that, with Seth’s character, Oppel is able to enlighten his readers about the foster care system and to show what it must be like for a child who feels unloved and unwanted by society. These were nice moments. Also nice is the inclusion of benevolent adults who work alongside the children.

I also wish Oppel had done a little more with the setting, which is a remote island in Canada. I would have liked to explore it a bit more.

Bloom includes a serviceable smattering of science (biology, botany, genetics, epidemiology) that’s at the right level for middle grade readers. You may have noticed that the story is eerily parallel to what we’re dealing with during the COVID-19 pandemic, making it seem all the more possible and scary.

Bloom ends on a cliffhanger. I’m eager to find out what happens next in Hatch, book two of THE OVERTHROW which will be available in September 2020. I’m listening to the audiobook versions produced by Listening Library and narrated by Sophie Amoss, who gives a great performance.

~Kat Hooper

Bloom by Kenneth Oppel science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsPlucky young teens. Carnivorous plants. Alien invasions. Adults who run the gamut from loving and helpful to annoying and oblivious to untrustworthy and amoral. Mysterious body changes. And a heck of a cliffhanger. Kenneth Oppel’s first book in his alien invasion series THE OVERTHROW has it all for its Middle Grade/early YA audience.

Bloom Kenneth OppelThe story is set on a small island near Vancouver and follow three teens. Two are Anaya, allergic to pretty much everything, and her former best friend (yes, there’s a story there and yes, we eventually learn it) Petra, who is allergic to water. The third is Seth, new in town with a new foster family after a string of failures.

After an oddly global rainfall, strange black plants start growing at a startling pace all over the place, seemingly immune to pesticides and growing right back after being cut/mowed/burned. This moves quickly from weird to annoying to dangerous, as the plants also a) cause majorly severe reactions and b) are crowding out food crops all over the planet. As the economy teeters and famine is on the horizon, and different sorts of plants become evident, each with their own danger, rumors start flying about this being an attack via a bio-engineered weapon. But by whom?

Anaya’s father, a botanist, is one person working on combatting the plants, and one storyline involves his possible discovery of a means of stopping the plants, though nobody has heard back from him since he left. The main storyline, though, involves the three young protagonists, who are mysteriously immune to the plants. Even more strange, each is undergoing a different type of bodily change (we’re not talking simple puberty here), seemingly connected to the plants’ appearance.

Bloom (2020) is a fast-paced science thriller, a sort of Day of the Triffids meets Michael Crichton meets, well, Kenneth Oppel and his well-written, strongly characterized MG/YA books. Oppel packs a lot of action into the book with a number of suspenseful scenes, but he doesn’t neglect to allow for some quieter moments to concisely, efficiently, and effectively develop the three characters more fully. The mysterious bodily changes are, of  course, directly aimed at the target audience, who have either already experienced their own or are about to (or are as they’re reading this), and while none of them may be growing a tail or claws, it’s easy to relate to Anaya, Petra, and Seth’s obsession, fear, and anticipation of the ways their body seems to be turning them into someone else.

The question, one which teens have to always figure out themselves, is “am I the same person,” a refrain that is stated again and again throughout Bloom. The answer, of course, is both yes and no, but how the three heroes discover that, I’ll leave to the reader.

If plot and main characters are the strong points here (along with a fluid style), the downside is a lack of detail in the setting/greater world and some adult characters who are a bit thin or standard. But those are minor issues and probably, for the target age, not issues at all. Bloom is a good, fast-moving start that continues strongly in book two, Hatch, leaving me very curious to see how Oppel brings it all to a close (especially, as like Bloom, Hatch also ends on a huge cliffhanger).

~Bill Capossere

Published in February 2020. The first book in a can’t-put-it-down, can’t-read-it-fast-enough action-thriller trilogy that’s part Hatchet, part Little Shop of Horrors! The invasion begins–but not as you’d expect. It begins with rain. Rain that carries seeds. Seeds that sprout–overnight, everywhere. These new plants take over crop fields, twine up houses, and burrow below streets. They bloom–and release toxic pollens. They bloom–and form Venus flytrap-like pods that swallow animals and people. They bloom–everywhere, unstoppable. Or are they? Three kids on a remote island seem immune to the toxic plants. Anaya, Petra, Seth. They each have strange allergies–and yet not to these plants. What’s their secret? Can they somehow be the key to beating back this invasion? They’d better figure it out fast, because it’s starting to rain again….


  • Kat Hooper

    KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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  • Bill Capossere

    BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

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