While I’d lock heads with main character Marley Sandelski in a battle over Star Wars vs. Star Trek, that only added to my enjoyment of this middle grade read. Marley, as a Star Trek fanatic, has a number of items he relies upon. When he needs to think or decompress, he has Spock ears to put on. When he’s nervous, he speaks in Klingon. He records brief thoughts about his day in a Captain’s Log. They’re coded in Trek speak. For example, when he had to attend a Home Sciences class for a few weeks the log entry became: “Temporarily docked on strange new planet.”
Beginning with Marley’s take on his name, spurring both the Marley of Charles Dickens and the one of dog fame, I found the narration quirky and engaging. Marley has a society ranking of his school based on the solar system. The popular athletes and scary top girls are on Mercury while Marley is on Pluto, what is no longer deemed a planet. Marley is at once observant and unaware. His story has an immediate feel, one enhanced by its use of the present tense. Humor is strong in this book, but there is also a brutality to it that powers the story.
The brutality takes the form of bullying, which defines much of Marley’s life. His one friend at the start of seventh grade, Ramen, is his best friend because he doesn’t have any other friends. Three guys Marley calls the Gorn hit him every day at school. Marley doesn’t tell on them when they attack because he doesn’t want them to get worse. He endures being shoved into lockers and into showers; he is spit upon while others watch. A different bully, Diggers, forces Marley into doing his history homework. One thing I found very interesting in the book is that it also demonstrated how bullies can be trapped into a cycle of bullying and what could be motivating them. Marley’s horror as the school launches an anti-bullying campaign made me pause and the action that happens afterward says much about platitudes without power behind them.
Marley’s one enjoyment of school comes from Technical Services class, formerly known as the AV club. Here there might be taunts, but they are in jest and over different science fiction and superhero series. The new member of the class, Max, even joins Marley and Ramen for lunch outside at the Tragic Tree (they wouldn’t dare try to eat in the cafeteria). Even AV club has its down moments though when Marley discovers he made a major assumption about Max.
When the Gorn take to hunting down Marley outside of school, Marley comes to discover how much he enjoys running for the freedom it makes him feel. He’s also good at it, so good that the school coach tries to get him into track. Can this offer Marley a way out?
Another element to Warp Speed is how it deals with poverty. Marley’s family lives in the old theater that they run. While the theater is amazing, especially the room Marley fixes up, business is slow. His clothes come from the thrift store, his family relies on an elderly transportation service to get around and they shop at businesses that cut them a break. Ramen received his nickname for what he brings to lunch every day.
The introduction of Marley’s mother is well done. That she is blind surprises multiple characters who meet her for the first time. To Marley, she is his mom and he cannot picture her another way. He is frustrated by the pity people try to give her when she can function independently.
I look forward to sharing this book with children and adults. I received my copy of Warp Speed as part of the GoodReads firstreads program.