The Mars Challenge by Alison Wilgus and Wyeth Yates (Illistrations)

A book that has me running straight to my high school science-teacher colleagues. The Mars Challenge is the perfect graphic novel to integrate into any high school curriculum or to enrich the life of a young person interested in STEM. But I in no way want to narrow the audience for this book. I loved it! It is informative, inspiring, and depicts a healthy and rewarding mentor-mentee relationship.


The driving question in this well-drawn graphic novel is “What are all the conflicts that need to be solved before a space flight can be made to our next door neighbor, Mars?” The story is told in a series of conversations between Nadia, a teen who wants to be the first woman to Mars, and her mentor, Eleanor, an Attitude Determination and Control Officer (basically, a rocket scientist!).  Eleanor guides Nadia through a hypothetical journey to the red planet. From the major difficulties of gravity and keeping astronauts alive throughout the journey and on the surface to the physics of landing the craft and the mathematics of the fuel reserves to get home, Wilgus details all the logistics of getting a huge chunk of metal with some sentient beings inside to a rock 85 million miles away…

I found it best to read this book in parts as the details can get a little thick in places, but I think the author does a great job of splitting up the parts of the journey into well-formed chapters. Each chapter builds on the previous and the reader can truly see the complicated task of building and operating the space rocket. There’s also the building of rapport between Nadia and Eleanor that illustrates how important these relationships are between young women and women in science careers. The illustrations are a mixture of straightforward panels featuring in depth conversations and large graphics that show the engineering in action.

The Mars Challenge is a graphic novel that features a complex scientific problem and an inspiring mentor-mentee pair of female scientists who are prepared to jump in with both feet.

This book helps to continue my appreciation of First Second Books. I know that I will always get the whole package with their releases. This publisher delivers dynamic artwork, well-researched and topical titles, as well as books that are always accessible to multiple audiences. It doesn’t get any better than First Second when it comes to graphic novels!

4.5 out of 5 stars.

Thank you to NetGalley, First Second Publishing, and the author for an advanced copy for review.


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