cover image Before Takeoff

Before Takeoff

Adi Alsaid. Knopf, $18.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-593-37576-1

Using an omniscient third-person narrator, Alsaid’s (Brief Chronicle of Another Stupid Heartbreak) speculative airport adventure reimagines an ordinary layover in Atlanta. Sparks fly when Latinx-cued James, 16, meets French and Thai Michelle, 18, while passing the time by inspecting a mysterious blinking green button on the terminal wall. Unknown to James, Michelle curiously presses the button and, soon after, a power surge causes flight delays, putting travelers on edge. Waiting for their flights, the teens wander the airport in a pseudo–first date filled with philosophical conversation about imminent adulthood, past regrets, and future plans. Their initially lighthearted reaction to the disturbance (“I hope it lasts all night. Like one big slumber party”) turns panicked when a second surge leaves the airport without power. Chaos ensues as people loot stores and form disgruntled mobs, and myriad surreal calamities, such as indoor blizzards and frightening earthquakes, begin surfacing across the terminals. The urgent external situations parallel the pair’s internal fears and uncertainties while maneuvering disaster and searching for their families. Alsaid’s ominous, high-stakes narrative steadily creeps toward a gripping resolution, balancing suspense, fantasy, drama, and cinematic romance for a multilayered read. Ages 12–up. Agent: Peter Knapp, Park & Fine Literary. (June)