Starship Malaysia is an inventive, historical YA novel following an adolescent American’s adventures in Malaysia.
In 1982 and ’83, after his father’s tragic death, 17-year-old Scott Mitchell moves to a small Malaysian town with his mother and her new husband. Scott quickly befriends a group of native boys, eventually becoming involved in their investigation of a sex smuggling operation. Along the way, he learns more about his father’s troubled past and bonds with his best friend in America.
Some chapters consist of thoughts that Scott, who wants to be a news broadcaster, records on a cassette player to send to Waz, his best friend, who lives in California. Other chapters involve a “Captain’s Log” in which Scott pretends to be an extraterrestrial giving his impressions of Malaysia. In both, Scott’s voice as a teenage American boy feels authentic. He’s also thoughtful, worrying about becoming his father, who took out his anger on Scott. When Waz reveals a secret about himself, Scott rehearses his response, trying to be a caring, understanding friend.
There’s plenty of action as Scott and his friends stake out a smuggler’s safe house, rescue a kidnapped girl, and even lead an undercover operation in a Bangkok sex hotel. As the suspense ratchets up, with the stakes increasingly high, readers will be on edge, wondering what will happen next.
At one point, Scott discovers he can enter a hawk’s mind, seeing what it sees. He also experiences some of his father’s memories. While intriguing, these elements are unexplained and feel misplaced in an otherwise highly realistic novel. The extraterrestrial approach also feels unnecessary and drops off quickly. And getting a sense of Waz is difficult when Scott mainly paraphrases his letters and remembers their friendship. The only time Waz is heard from directly is when revealing his secret.
Attention to these issues would improve the story. Still, Starship Malaysia offers adventure in an exotic setting with a charming narrator that readers should appreciate.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.