by Andy Weir
Weir, Andy. The Martian. New York: Crown, 2011. Print.
Mark Watney, along with the other members of his NASA crew, are the first six people to walk on Mars after arriving there on a mission. The plan was to stay much longer and to gain information from the planet, but a sudden severe dust storm changes everything. They realize they need to evacuate the planet in order to ever make it off alive, and Mark is injured in the storm in the process of leaving. Believing him dead, his crew has no choice but to leave him behind. Mark is not dead, however, but he has no way of informing his crew or anyone on Earth of this. Mark has an incredible sense of humor and strength, though, so he is not going to sit back and die without a fight. Instead, he uses his botany skills to find ways to prolong his supplies while he tries to determine a way to make contact with NASA and make it back home to Earth.
First things first, this is not a book that I would typically pick up. Even though I have reached an adult stage of my life (supposedly), I still read typically young adult literature exclusively. However, I have had this book sitting on my shelf for quite some time, and when I saw it on the science fiction list, I decided it was time to give an adult book another go. The truth is, I loved the book, but I think I will still stick to YA for now. My middle school students could certainly not read this book, and I do think that it would probably be upper high school before I would feel comfortable with a student reading it mostly due to the language. There is a lot of foul language, and while some people are not bothered by that, it can be an issue when it comes to what students are reading. Even I was a little uncomfortable with how much there was, and I'm an adult! Still, I do think that there are plenty of wonderful things that readers can get out of this book, if they can get past the language.
The first thing that really hooks the reader are the characters, and most specifically the protagonist of Mark Watney. It would be very easy for this novel to turn depressing very quickly based on the situation, but it keeps from doing that with Watney's sense or humor and personality. Despite the situation he is going through, he keeps a level head and a humorous attitude, which draws the reader in. What makes it even more interesting is that this is a science fiction novel that does not have a person as the villain or antagonist. Instead, it's a planet; Mars. Mars is a place that we cannot experience in our regular, every day lives, so it is exciting to get details in the novel, and Weir does a great job of developing the setting that we are so unaware of ourselves.
The best thing about this science fiction novel, however, is how real it actually seems. That is one of the best things about this genre; it is still a fairly easy process for readers to put themselves in the shoes of the character. Of course, this particular book may be a little more difficult as the character is older, but students could learn a lot from his behavior and the way he handles the stress of the situation. It has a universal theme of friendship, loyalty, and never giving up, and that is a valuable lesson for all students and individuals to learn.
Creative Activity: One of the most challenging aspects of this novel is that one character has to carry a lot of the story, activity, and plot in the book without having other people to interact with. This can be a difficult thing to do for anyone, and a difficult concept for authors to create without it becoming dry and boring. This seems like it would make for a wonderful journal prompt in a high school writing class. Students have to create a story and plot around one character, where they do not have any other individuals to interact with. They must create a world and scenario that is interesting and intriguing in order to continue to hook their readers through the entirety of their writing.
For related resources, it seems like a good idea to use other science fiction novels, or even just excerpts of them to compare. One that instantly comes to mind is The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells. This would work because it is a very believable setting and characters as well, with the addition of aliens. Definitely similarities in the plot lines.
Another interesting concept could be to introduce a nonfiction book to use with the book as well. It could be something about Mars or space travel, and they could demonstrate how well Weir did research and presented the information in the book based on the facts that they read and find.
Publisher's Weekly. The Martian, 2011. Web. 19 July 2016. Retrieved from http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-8041-3902-1