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“Listeners, what would you do to save yourself? What would you do to save your friends? What you would do tells me what kind of person you are. Sometimes our future is racing toward us. Sometimes we’re the ones hurtling toward it at breakneck speed. Whatever your destiny may be, be brave, be bold. Be the beam of light that saves us all,” Oliver Pruitt. ―The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel
The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel
by Sheela Chari
AR Test, Diverse Characters, LGBTQ
Kids are disappearing all over the world, and that includes seventh-grader Manu “Mars” Patel’s friends, Aurora and Jonas. Aurora disappeared five days ago. During a lockdown, Jonas disappears after leaving the closet Mars and his friend, Caddie Patchett, were hiding in. Jonas and Aurora’s disappearance sparks an investigation by Mars. To help, he is accompanied by his intelligent friend Randall “Toothpick” Lee, Caddie, who is an empath, and JP McGowan, a nonbinary person. Mars’ idol, Oliver Pruitt, a genius tech billionaire, also guides the way for Mars. But as Mars and his friends get closer to the truth, they soon learn that danger follows them and maybe Oliver Pruitt isn’t their ally after all.
Mars gets a message from an unknown person, someone only named Lost in London (LIL). LIL tells Mars about the missing kids. What’s even stranger is that Mars also gets a message from Aurora, saying “Ad astra.” Mars’ desperation to find his friends mounts as his mother threatens to leave Port Elizabeth for Cleveland, Ohio due to Mars’ troublemaking habits. But Mars is so close to discovering the truth. And then, he’s gone without a trace. It’s up to Caddie, Toothpick, and JP, along with some other unexpected allies, to find Mars and bring him home.
The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel is written in the third person perspective, overseeing the narrative with an omniscient narrator. The formatting is in prose style with small breaks from the typical prose style of narration. These breaks come in the form of snippets from Oliver Pruitt’s podcast and text messages among Mars’ friend group. For example, one of Oliver Pruitt’s podcasts goes: “Dear listeners: Ever wonder what makes you who you are? Is it the socks you wear? Your favorite band? I believe what makes you YOU is your response when you’re tested. When the odds are stacked against you, are you brave? Generous? A good friend? If someone asks YOU to take the leap, will you hide or will you FLY? To the stars!” With this podcast specifically, Oliver is testing Mars’ friendship with his kidnapped friends, Aurora and Jonas. These small breaks are used to push the plot forward as the podcasts originally serve as an ally to Mars.
The story is a general mystery blended with elements of sci-fi. Through JP, readers will understand how a nonbinary middle schooler may feel when others don’t understand the concept of being nonbinary. JP’s mother tells them, “The world sees everything gendered. We don’t, but they do.” JP isn’t the only outcast, as they are friends with fellow outcast Mars. Mars is called names because he’s a troublemaker and is constantly getting into detention with his friends. Despite that, the story teaches that real friends stick together no matter how far apart they are. Real friends will defend you and real friends are going to support you in any way necessary. A good example is when a teacher, Mr. Q, accidentally misgenders JP. Toothpick corrects Mr. Q, saying, “Are they here, you mean. That’s the pronoun JP uses.”
Middle schoolers will identify with Mars and his friends, who feel the authority figures are out to get them. Mars also realizes that his idol may not be a good person. Mars can also relate to middle schoolers through his friendships. One day they may be perfectly fine, and the next they may be rocked to their core. Middle schoolers who are also questioning their gender identity will relate to JP’s struggle with his gender identity; albeit it’s not a major part of the main plot due to the narrative format. JP’s character also provides much needed representation for nonbinary middle schoolers who wish to see a major character that has fun and is not treated as a token LGBTQIA+ character.
While The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel is a fun mystery with intriguing twists and turns, the breaks in the narrative format slow the pacing. The story also has strange plot holes that may confuse the reader, such as how a character can have powers but suddenly doesn’t have them anymore. The story also isn’t very clear with its lore. For example, the world is set in a technologically advanced world similar to our own, but Mars and his friends have superpowers when they’re at Pruitt Prep. It is not mentioned previously that they have powers. Overall, The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel is a fun story about a group of friends trying to solve the mystery of kids’ disappearances.
- At the school dance, a girl tells Toothpick, “You look hot!”
- A hate crime is mentioned. “Recently in Seattle, someone beat up a teenager wearing a skirt on a bus because they didn’t look like a girl or a boy. The teenager ended up needing stitches.”
- Multiple times, drones appear to spy on Mars and his friends. Mars ends up destroying a drone once, and another time the drone even shot at Mars. The drone is used to kidnap Mars as well, which we can suspect is how all the kids were kidnapped.
- On the ferry to Gale Island to find Mars, a girl throws a shoe at a bodyguard so the rest of the group can get away.
Drugs and Alcohol
- A student named Clyde Boofsky calls Mars “Martian Patel.”
- Clyde makes many transphobic remarks towards JP, who identifies as nonbinary. He calls JP things such as “boy-girl” and “They-Them.” He purposely misgenders JP, who is AFAB (assigned female at birth). He also mocks JP for “not choosing” which one they are. Clyde says, “Even my dog knows she’s a she. I guess she’s smarter than you, JP.”
- Clyde’s friend purposefully misgenders JP, saying, “Or we can just call her It?”
- During the assembly with Oliver Pruitt, the student body begins repeatedly calling Mars a loser.
- A girl calls JP a “wuss” because they didn’t want to try a chia seed cookie. In response, JP says, “I’d like to wuss you.” JP implies they would like to fight the girl.
- Caddie and her friends encounter a large spider that is made of metal. “Never had [Caddie] seen such a thing. Several feet tall, armored, long grotesque legs stretching out in all directions. It was watching them with its many eyes, its mouth sprawled open and ravenous. What she saw was an enormous spider plated in steel.” Caddie and her friends run from the spider.
- There is a creature in Pruitt Prep named Muffin, who guards the school. She’s described as a “wolf-spider,” but according to Mr. Q, Muffin is a microscopic tardigrade crossbred with a wolf. Mars and his friends meet it after running into Mr. Q, who stops Muffin from eating the children. “In the hallway, the howling creature seemed even larger than before. Its legs were covered in thick fur and its multiple eyes bore down on them like a spider looks at its prey before striking.”
by Emma Hua