Book Review: The Antidotes: Pollution Solution
Reviewed by Andrea Marks-Joseph
Five determined kids become secret public health detectives, helping local scientists to save their community from contaminated water.
This story is educational, empowering, and easy to understand. The scientific knowledge shared feels accessible, and the messaging behind the science—the need to eliminate plastic and hold corporations accountable for their toxic waste—will motivate readers of any age.
Author Dr. Patty Mechael does a fantastic job of showing that children are capable of helping in serious situations. The Antidotes: Pollution Solution shows how we can benefit from including children, and learning from their perspective, even in situations that require specialized skills. The group of young scientists in this book follow the same steps as the official adults in charge of research, using their youthful initiative and innovative ideas to bring the study to life—and to save lives.
This book switches between the perspective of five classmates who have very different home lives, but who are connected through the school they attend, and through the devastating COVID-19 pandemic which they all recently experienced. When we meet them, they’ve just returned to classes on campus. Not everyone in their lives made it through, though.
Each child has suffered losses that weigh them down and have changed their lives forever: Grandparents have died, parents have divorced, one child lost a father and grandmother to COVID-19. They share the truth of this loss and ever-present ache with us, the readers, but mostly struggle to articulate it to each other in person.
Some of these kids have been best friends for years, while others are newer to the group. This dynamic—and the complex situation they face—keeps the conversation interesting and creates room for the characters to grow. As these five children work together on a secret project to understand and solve the problem of their local water making people (children specifically) very sick, the group decides to call themselves The Antidotes.
We’re introduced to the multi-cultural Antidotes cast through alternative points of view as the story progresses: Izi is Japanese, Olu is Nigerian, and Gir’s parents are Danish and Egyptian. Gir’s dad is a marine biologist studying how plastic is destroying life in their local bay, and his mom is a professor of public health. Leo’s been Gir’s best friend since first grade. Olu is the class social media star. Their parents are all wonderful, and trying their best to demonstrate love and raise responsible children in a challenging situation. I particularly enjoyed the firm, pragmatic way Gir’s mother made sure to rectify the “gender bias situation” of his feeling threatened by Izi once he realized she is smarter and faster at solving science problems than he is.
Izi, who lost her grandmother and father during the pandemic, found herself too uncomfortable to speak in class once they returned to in-person schedules. She felt lost and unsure of how to make friends again, spending most afternoons alone at home with only the company of 24-hour TV news reporters for comfort. Izi shares many vibrant memories with the reader from before things turned upside down with COVID-19—one of them a mysterious secret identity that could help strengthen the group’s project. But before she call tell her fellow Antidotes, she must rebuild the courage she lost in the period of isolation.
The last to join The Antidotes is Suzie, the class bully, whose dad is the big boss of a corporation that is shamelessly polluting the environment. She’s obnoxious and rude and insistent that her dad couldn’t be in the wrong, despite the facts her classmates present. The Antidotes struggle with how to talk to her, when to avoid her, and when it’s best to include her to mitigate potential drama caused by her overreacting to being left out.
There is a lot of pain and hesitance held within these kids’ hearts. As someone who didn’t interact with kids their age (they’re ten-years-old and in fifth grade) during the pandemic, it broke my heart and opened my eyes to the depth of their trauma. I feel enlightened and saddened by how the repercussions of what they’ve been through will echo into their daily lives for years to come. I’d recommend this book to anyone who knows and loves kids around this age for its tremendous authentic representation of their emotions and struggles alone, but it is so much more than that.
One of the most difficult points of the story is when the water begins to make children so sick that they are hospitalized (one of their group is hospitalized, and a student from their school even dies from it). The Antidotes, their teachers, and their parents collectively panic that “It’s happening all over again.” The children are consistently worried—terrified, really—that the situation may escalate to COVID-19 pandemic levels, and are frequently told that it’s not their concern.
“But it is our concern if it’s going to affect us,” Gir says.
At times, this is a very difficult and disheartening read, but it’s rooted in the powerful, hopeful idea that if good people can work together, it’s possible to save the world. “I can’t be s-s-s-stuck in my house with my sisters with another year!” Leo shouts, “I bet you every kid on the planet would help if they knew something like this was going on again.” Then he builds an online video game to inform and engage kids all over the world about the plastic problem contaminating their water.
The Antidotes’ fierce fight for public health, and determination to prevent another debilitating pandemic is deeply inspiring and often made me tear up. Their behavior is reflected in the author’s dedication: “Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world.” They learn to cooperate, and understand the logistics of scientific experiments, but they’re still kids. The moment that conveys this best is when Gir notices that there’s something wrong in the local bay because it’s started to smell strange: “It smells especially bad today,” Gir tells us, “like the time Leo and I had a farting contest and made my bedroom stink for a month. I won, of course.”
The Antidotes: Pollution Solution is an informative, inspirational story that would suit readers of any age who can empathize with the difficulties that kids have faced since being reintroduced into classrooms after the isolation of COVID-19 quarantine. It would also serve as a comfort for children to see they aren’t alone in the struggle to get back to a routine from pre-pandemic life. (I’d suggest parents of anxious kids read ahead, because the water toxicity illness scenes could be triggering for certain people.)
This story will invigorate a fascination with testing water quality and a protective, anti-pollution, plastic-free stance in all readers. I encourage parents to buy some water-testing kits and create a bonding moment out of the passionate environmental scientist this story is sure to bring out in your kids.
Publisher: Bold Story Press
Genre: Middle Grade Fiction / Environment
Print Length: 242 pages
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