It's always problematic trying to write a review for a book which isn’t aimed at me - because I'm older or the wrong gender, or something. I can’t tell people what to read nor would I wish to. All I can do is give my opinion and if you tend to find yourself in agreement with those opinions (or I tend to find myself in agreement with yours!), then this might be of use to one or both of us, or it might not!
I started reading this one because I'd enjoyed this author's short story about mermaids, but I have to report that this effort at a middle-grade story was a failure for me. I get that it wasn't written for my age range, but it wasn't written well for any age group it seems to me, and a lot of it made very little sense. There were writing issues, and I felt that it also sent the wrong message about how young girls should behave when confronted with strange men who are less than equitable and considerate in regard to interpersonal relationships.
The basic story is that Middle-Grade Mia, in process of conducting a science project which involves motion-triggered photography, discovers two strange guys wandering around her father's property. Rather than alert an adult, she gets involved with them herself. This tells me she's profoundly stupid. If you're going to force a child to take on something like this, then please for the love of writing give me a reason other than that she's a moron! Her name is also hilarious given that it's an acronym for Missing in Action, which her brother has been for two years and her brain is all the time it would seem. Names are important. Please don't get caught putting so little thought into your character's name!
On that same score, these guys are inexplicably young to be police. Again, give me a reason. I can understand a potential need to induct young people into a system to get them properly trained, but that offers no explanation in this case as to why they need to start young, and it sure as hell doesn't offer a reason for sending young people out in an enforcement role. I know this is aimed at the young, but please give me a reason why children are doing potentially dangerous jobs that adults normally do! It's not rocket science! It's writing!
Their concern about viral contamination of this Earth from a nearby one is flimsy. Viruses evolve with their host organism(s). That doesn't mean they never can infect something outside their preferred circle, but the chances of a virus being able to magically leap into an alien species it's never encountered before and become a threat are slim because it has not evolved to attack the genetic code of that alien species. There should be no need to spell out that sci-fi involves a little science in the fiction!
Another serious writing issue I encountered is one I've seen many times in assorted novels I've read. The problem arises from an author seeing their work only on the printed page instead of seeing it in 3D as it were: as real events out there in a real world. This is why it helps to read your story out loud at least once, picturing the events in a 3D world, and hearing the actual words spoken in conversation. In that way some of the problems with it will be highlighted for you in a new way. Poorly written or ill-considered conversational exchanges will stand out (hopefully! You’re in trouble if they don’t!).
The worst mistake is thinking of your story only as words on a page. In that way you see it merely as something that's being read, not as events that are actually happening. That's not as good perspective to hold. Take this quote from the book as an example:
“Regulus thinks I was wrong to grab you last night, but I am a little impulsive sometimes.” The guy with the blond hair was still smiling.
“Listen, I told your partner, Rejules—”
“Regulus…like Regulator,” the blond said.
You can see from this that the author is seeing the character's name, Regulus, not as a spoken name, but as writing on a page. It’s obvious from the main character's rejoinder, when she pronounces it with a 'J': Rejules. You can only see it that way if you're reading it. If someone has just said Regulus, with a hard G, which is what happens here, there's no way you can get a soft G from it even if you don’t get the whole name. That's where the second problem here comes in.
Regulus is the name of a star, which I grant not that many people would know, but it was also the name of Sirius Black's brother in the Harry Potter series, where the whole Black family seem to have been named after stars: Sirius, Regulus, Andromeda, Bellatrix, and a big deal was made out of discovering who this person was. A host of children now know the name Regulus very well. It seemed likely that the character in this novel would have also heard of it. And Yes, there is a galaxy, the closest one to our own, and into which we are going to crash in about four billion tears, named Andromeda; there's also a constellation of stars in our own galaxy, and an annual meteor shower named after it, but all of these take their name from the stars in the constellation.
At one point, when Mia feels threatened, she manages to wangle a trip to the bathroom with her cell phone, but instead of immediately calling the police, which was her intention, she completely forgets about it and fails to make the call at all. Please, give us a reason why she didn't, and not simply that she forgot such a crucial thing when she feels threatened and has the phone right there! All she proves here is that she's a moron. I don't want to read about morons - not unless you have a really good or funny (and preferably both) story to tell me! Almost worse than this, when her captors retrieve the phone from the bathroom after this idiot Mia leaves it there, they fail to check if she called the police or anyone else! In short, they're morons, too! And they're supposed to be some sort of policing organization?
The excuse given here is that there's a chance to find out what happened to her brother, but never once is she suspicious about the motives of these two guys. Never once does she consider, even for a second or two, that they might be outright lying to her. In other words, she's a moron. Again. Her brother has been gone for two years. Obviously that;s not something you forget or put behind you, but neither is it something you carry like an overbearing weight two years on - not unless you're also under psychiatric care. That this was so raw and held such an overpowering hold on her didn't jibe with the two-year gap. Had it been three months, or something like that, it would have made more sense. Time does heal - if you give it a chance.
Here’s another problem quote: "Anybody would be blinded by the good looks of these two. Arizona seemed so harmless. Any girl my age would fall victim to his easygoing manner" - this is hardly what a young girl her age would actually think. It is what an older writer would write if they weren't putting themselves into the shoes of the character about whom they were writing. This is a problem with first person voice. If it had been written in third person, that would have been fine because the narrator would have been expressing that thought, instead of a thirteen-year-old. You just can’t write things like that in first person and have them sound authentic. It doesn't work. This is one of many reasons why I detest first person voice. It's almost never realistic.
There were inconsistencies, too. Because the main character's brother had gone missing, Mia's dad won't let her go to comic con, yet he routinely leaves her home alone when he goes on overnight business trips? This made no zero sense. He's either overly protective, in which case he would not let her go to comic con or be home alone, or he's not so protective in which case, if he feels fine trusting her safety in being home alone overnight, then why is it he object to a trip to comic con with two close friends?
At one point, after Mia is already aware of the inter-dimensional portal, and has seen Arizona and Regulus both use it, I read, "I envisioned the two would demonstrate a scientific phenomenon by exiting via dimensional doorway." She's talking like she hasn't already seen this, but she has already seen it, and not that long before. This was about a quarter the way through this novel, and it was also where I quit reading, because it was one faux pas too many. This novel is not well-written, and it was not entertaining me at all. It was just irritating, and life is far too short to keep stubbornly pursuing a novel that doesn’t grab me. This one didn’t. I wish the author well, but I can’t recommend this effort by her. Read the mermaid story instead!