Light Years

Five years ago, in New York, Chicago and Boston, "someone hacked the electric grids, cut the power, and set off bombs on twenty rush hour trains.... 6,000 people died." In the aftermath, "a bunch of college kids in Boston started a group to do all the stuff the FEMA people couldn't seem to manage.... By the end of the year, Front Line was in a dozen cities and now, they are everywhere. There are more Peacekeepers on the streets than actual cops."

This is 16-year-old Luisa Ochoa-Jones's world--either a very near-future or an alternate timeline in which Ariana Grande exists alongside self-driving cars and ubiquitous smart watches. Extremely intelligent, Luisa is one of the five final contenders for tech billionaire Thomas Bell's Avarshina Fellowship, given to a young person with the best new tech idea. Luisa's project, Light Years, "takes any piece of online content and tells you in real time how we feel about it, collectively."

But the day after her interview with Bell, there are news reports of a viral outbreak. Quickly, the virus sweeps across the country, infecting and killing tens of thousands; at the same time, Luisa begins getting strange, anonymous messages from a person seemingly connected to the outbreak. When Luisa's father gets sick, she decides to travel across country to find a mysterious woman who has said she has the cure--or she'll cure it herself.

A synesthete, Luisa can taste, smell and see her feelings, a condition that, at times, appears to make her almost prescient. The tone of Emily Ziff Griffin's novel is reminiscent of the works of Madeleine L'Engle--science meets contemporary life meets religion and faith. The first in what is likely to be a genre-bending series, Light Years is a well-paced read that is shockingly timely. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

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