In The Rising (2017), Alex Chin is a rising star, the handsome blond quarterback of his high school football team, dating the head cheerleader. His Chinese adoptive parents are concerned about his grades not being good enough, and his nerdy tutor Samantha, a classmate with plans for a career at NASA, hounds him to work harder at school, while nursing a secret and seemingly hopeless crush on Alex. He also has strange dreams that cause him to fill a drawing pad with detailed drawings of a world filled with menacing machines. Other than those minor drawbacks, though, Alex has what he thinks is an ideal life.
But Alex’s plans for football glory may be crushed when he’s severely injured playing football in a regional championship. When the hospital doctor takes a CT scan, it shows a mysterious shadow in his brain. A second CT scan is aborted when something causes the bulbs in the scanner to burst, along with all the lights in the room. That’s just the start of the events that completely upend Alex’s life: He discovers that his doctor has been murdered, and then Sam finds Alex’s parents dying in their home. When Alex sneaks out of the hospital and goes back to his home with Sam, they’re confronted by the strange beings that killed his parents. These odd-looking (and smelling) beings tell Alex that he doesn’t belong here and that he must come with them.
Alex fights them, then he and Sam go on the run, always just one step ahead of the chase: not only by these beings that want to take him with them, but also by a group of well-funded vigilante humans who are convinced that there are aliens among us who need to be exterminated. And Alex … might be an alien. But he might also be the one person that can save humanity.
The Rising, a young adult novel, mixes science fiction with suspense, a mystery, and just a little romance. The authors, Heather Graham and Jon Land, are best known in the mystery-suspense and romance genres, and that background informs their approach to this SF thriller. It’s a fast-paced, light read, moving quickly from one confrontation and narrow escape to another, with key plot points and revelations gradually disclosed along the way to keep the reader’s interest in the mystery alive.
The “young adult read” vibes are very strong in The Rising. The lead characters are high school seniors, and the adult characters are generally one-dimensional, particularly the villains. Just in case it’s not clear from one pursuer’s history of kills and his cold-blooded murder of an innocent character that he’s a bad guy, the authors briefly mention the otherwise irrelevant fact that he’s a pedophile. Time travel and space travel are briefly explained using wormhole and folded space theories, but otherwise the science is given short shrift. Aliens are shown to have affected the perception of Alex and Sam in one key early scene, but then that power ― which could have dramatically changed the course of events in this novel ― never is used again. Well, perhaps later in the upcoming sequel(s).
The chapters are only a few pages each (there are 105 chapters in this 397-page book, plus a prologue, an epilogue, and a couple of journal entries that bookend the novel). These brief chapters tend to end in mini-cliffhangers that sometimes have an exasperatingly anticlimactic resolution in the next chapter or two: Oh no! A pair of red eyes is staring at Alex when he opens the closet! … no worries, it’s just an old pager with flashing red lights. Also, while the ending isn’t precisely a cliffhanger, it’s abundantly clear that the characters have only won the opening battle in a war that endangers all of humanity.
For these reasons, I don’t recommend The Rising to more mature readers or those looking for a complex or insightful read. I do think, though, that teens who like action-oriented SF will think that this is a great read. It’s hard to put down, and the plot has originality as well as several twists along the way. I plan on handing The Rising to my fourteen year old son, and I have every confidence that it will really appeal to him.