Does Mars have life? Arcturus ‘Arty’ Betelgeuse Chambers is going to find out once and for all. Life on Mars by Jennifer Brown is the story of a 12-year-old boy, growing up in a space-obsessed family whose life has revolved around attempts at communicating with Mars via his Clandestine Interplanetary Communication Module, or a flashlight and mirrors. Suddenly, all of this changes when he faces the nightmare of a big move. His father loses his job in small town Missouri and finds another in the brightly lit city of Las Vegas, Nevada. Arty knows he’ll never be able to see the stars at night again with all the dazzling billboards and bright buildings.
While Arty’s parents venture out to find a new house in this big new city, he finds himself left with a creepy, old next-door neighbor whom he names “Mr. Death,” who has been seen carrying a mysterious bag with him out to the woods every night. To Arty, this means he must be a vampire, a serial killer or perhaps a zombie. This is where we find the heart of soul of the story. Mr. Death turns out to be anything but morbid. His name is actually Cash Maddux – a former astronaut who is also dedicated to finding life on Mars. Together, Arty and Cash seek to prove that they aren’t crazy, they are right! The friendship that forms between these two characters is heartwarming and central to the story.
Life on Mars touches on many major life changes that are often difficult for school-age kids to deal with, such as the effects of living in a poor economy, sibling rivalry, relocating to a whole new city and growing up. Also thrown in are some interesting facts about real evidence of the possible existence of extra-terrestrial life and what life might be like out there. Jennifer Brown provides a witty and accurate portrayal of a school-age astronomer-in-training. I loved this book from start to finish and highly recommend it to both boys and girls (perfect for ages 8-12) who are interested in space and science, or who are just looking for a good laugh.