Min’s family of supernatural, shapeshifting foxes lives on Jinju, an outer rim planet that just wasn’t able to be fully terraformed. She and her family stay in human form the majority of the time, and use their taboo abilities sparingly. Her brother was able to escape the dusty confines of their home by joining the Thousand Worlds Space Forces, but tragedy strikes when a rep from the Force reports that Jin has deserted. He’s accused of going AWOL to seek out the dragon pearl, an orb with the fantastic power to turn any barren planet habitable. Min takes off to look for brother and save the family’s reputation. Dragon Pearl is an enjoyable middle-grade deep space adventure that draws its uniqueness from fantasy and magical elements inspired by Korean culture.
Yoon Ha Lee pulls from Korean language, food, symbolic numbers and colors, and the nature of gi. Dragon Pearl definitely has some of the usual cool science fiction elements: dirty space ports, star ship battles, and cadet training (and maybe a quick nod to another hero who had to get off his planet). But the draw of this one is in the Min’s connection to her family’s roots on Jinjui, and her undying faith in her brother. She must get her feet dirty several times in order to find the answers to all her questions, and there is some real depth that is developed in her character.
Dragon Pearl is a good choice for any kid wanting to get that first taste of science fiction. It features positive decision making, balanced friendships, and a protagonist who is a solid role model. Recommended.
4 out of 5 stars.
Releases on January 15th.
Thank you to NetGalley, Disney Book Group, and Yoon Ha Lee for the advanced copy for review.