Nick Brynner is the school nerd, genuinely enjoying school work and a bit socially awkward. He and his mom are struggling financially, though, and if he wants to go to college, getting a scholarship would really help. With the help of a surprisingly long-term substitute teacher, Mr. Faunas, he sets to work on a research project for History Day.
As part of that project, he's going to visit an abandoned fort in Puget Sound, which has been off limits for almost a century. There are strange stories about people disappearing there, and mysterious forces, but that's ridiculous--isn't it?
Nick reaches the island, finds the remains of the fort, and after sketching a map of the place, investigates a staircase down into the ground, finds a locked door, finds the key...
He wakes up lying on the grass, and meets a girl, who introduces herself as Eleanor Terrell, and soon they are on an alien spaceship talking to a Xu, who has a little assignment for them. A game of sorts. The Xu think humans are too destructive, and Nick and Eleanor are going to be sent back to the time of our earliest human ancestors, genetic Adam & Eve, fifty thousand years ago. It will be up to them to decide if they deserve to be saved and the history we know preserved, or if there should be a Reset--the elimination of genetic Adam & Eve to allow another gene line, or even another species, to rule Earth.
Nick and Eleanor are both smart and thoughtful and, in their different ways, tough. Dietrich does a great job of showing us the African savanna fifty thousand years ago through Nick's eyes, and letting Nick really wrestle with the moral, practical, and personal issues raised by the challenge and threat of the Xu. I also find Dietrich's early homo sapiens plausible and interesting, though they may not be 100% accurate. (Our knowledge about them is advancing fast enough that it's quickly moving target.)
I'll further note, for those who notice such things, that yes, Dietrich does know that genetic Adam and genetic Eve weren't contemporaries; he's put them together for the sake of the story, and acknowledges that in an afterword.
All in all, this is a fun, interesting, and moderately thoughtful book. Recommended.
I received a free electronic galley of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.