Far Out!

Written by Anne Bustard
Review by Sarah Hendess

In 1964, the residents of Totter, Texas, are absolutely enamored with UFOs—so enamored, in fact, that they’ve organized the First Annual Come on Down Day, when they expect to host the aliens they’re certain are ready to visit Earth. Eleven-year-old Magnolia Jean Crook is hoping to get a front-row seat to all the action because her grandmother, Mimi, is vice president of the town’s UFO club. But just as the festivities are about to begin, a meteorite that had been on display in the library goes missing, and Mimi is the prime suspect. It’s up to Magnolia Jean and her best friend, Nick Lawless, to prove that while Mimi may be a Crook, she’s no thief. But it’s tough when Mimi keeps disappearing and can’t answer any questions on where she went and why.

Bustard’s delightful novel is a terrific spin on the “kid sleuth” trope. Magnolia Jean’s parents, even her father, who’s the town sheriff, fully support her inquisitive nature, and while Magnolia Jean believes Mimi is innocent, she occasionally battles doubt and discouragement. The period details, such as beehive hairdos, measles, and garish green-and-gold furniture sink the reader into the mid-1960s. Frequent, but not excessive, use of terms like “y’all” and “I might could” keep the Texas setting clear, while multiple Hispanic names and bits of Mexican culture add both diversity and realism. Young readers will cheer for Magnolia Jean and Nick, while adults will love how fully convinced the townspeople are that aliens are going to land in the town square on some randomly selected day. Themes of friendship, family loyalty, and the changes that come with old age tie it all together. This one is a delight.