Surfacing – Mark Magro (Review)

Title: Surfacing
Author: Mark Magro
Publisher: Jolly Fish Press, 2015
Genre: YA Dystopian, YA Science Fiction

This review can be found on my Blog and TeacherofYA’s Tumblr, as well as my Goodreads account

My Review:

So unexpected: I remember grabbing the book at the library, thinking that the description sounded interesting. I hoped to get a chance to read it, but I knew it was just one of those books I pick up more out of curiosity than out of extreme desire to read.

I am so glad I came across this unbelievably riveting piece of literature.

I had low expectations…I had seen the five star reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, but I was skeptical. The book was mint (not anymore thanks to actually reading it!), so I had a feeling it would be mildly entertaining at best.

Let me start with telling you what Surfacing is about, and then we can get into more of my reactions…

Baltazar (NOT Balthazar, like my autocorrect wants to type!) is a good student at the Parkman Institute of Science and Solutions (lovingly nicknamed PISS). At sixteen years old, he has memorized all the protocols and his midterm project is an AI that can eliminate the other AIs that went rogue in the old labs. His plan is an ambitious undertaking, but he imagines all the accolades he could receive if he could get all the students and instructors back into the sealed off old labs. What Balt doesn’t count on is new student Zoe, a blue-eyed distraction fresh from Level H, and the only survivor of a fire that killed all her other classmates.

In his infatuation, Balt starts making Smith, his AI project, at the same time he tries to logically work out how to interact with Zoe. Tired one night, he leaves the lab, only to realize that when asked his Prime Directives, Smith has two, not one. He still has the directive to eliminate the variant AI in the old labs, but his second protocol? 

“Smith, could you tell us your directives again?” Zeke asked for the thousandth time, and now I was the one delivering a punch before hiding my face in my hands.

“I suppose, although I’m not seeing the humor in it. Directive 1: Infiltrate and observe the variant AI found in old labs. Track their movements in an attempt to discern a definite pattern. Assess threat levels and possible solutions for deactivation. Report back with notable data.”

There was a pause as I could detect Zeke and Tern trying to hold back their laughter. Malfunctions, both of them.

“Directive 2: Help Baltazar Harris court and obtain the love of Zoe Culth.”

When Zoe starts actually paying interest to Balt, it’s like his dreams have come true. She seems interested in his AI project, and one night she comes to him in tears asking to stay in his room overnight. Ever the gentleman and head over heels, Balt says yes. But when he wakes in the morning to find Smith gone, Balt starts to wonder what her intentions with his robot head might be.

Zoe Culth is tired and scared. All her friends, especially Helena, her best friend, are dead. The scientists want to continue Project Wind, a highly classified experiment, and they need Zoe’s help, willing or not. Zoe needs to escape the Institute and go to the one place she knows has been lied about: the Surface. Though all students are told they are underground to help save the Earth from devastating destruction years ago, Zoe knows this is a lie. And when she sees that Balt’s midterm is an AI designed to get past the old labs, where there is an Emergency entrance to the surface, she’ll take whatever methods necessary to escape more tests…because Zoe is hiding a secret that can make her valuable in the wrong hands.

Is it Classroom-Appropriate?

Yes! No sex, no swearing, just a real adventure with two teens trying to get answers. Perfect for a Dystopian unit to avoid using The Hunger Games all the time, Surfacing is an original story that sucks you in from beginning to end. With POV shifts between Balt and Zoe, it guarantees that both girls and boys alike can identify with the characters. It’s well-written and clever. I actually want to write a lesson plan using this book right now!!

Age Range:

Easily 12 and up. Though not available on Lexile.com, I would easily feel comfortable letting my niece read it. I think I’ll buy her a copy and see if she likes it: she’s a fan of dystopian novels, but I’m always wary of what to give her to read. But this book is innocent with the feelings between Zoe and Balt, and I think it appeals to readers of varying ages.

End Result:

Easily ★★★★★. There is no “cliffhanger,” but it is left open-ended and I hope Magro will write a sequel. The story and the end is full of unexpected twists and turns, and I put down the book feeling satisfied but sad. I honestly want more, and I can imagine other readers feeling the same way. I can also see this as a major motion picture.

But enough about how I feel…

Does it sound appealing to you? I usually am nervous about recommending a book for others to read, but I don’t feel this way when it comes to Surfacing. I say give it a shot, and I don’t believe you will be disappointed. It had way more character development than the average plot-based book, and I found myself rooting for Balt, Zoe, and Smith, the AI head.

Magro’s interview with another blogger suggests he’s working on several projects right now: Surfacing is his debut novel.


As always, happy reading! Don’t know what will be next, but it better be pretty good for me to transition from this to it.

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10 thoughts on “Surfacing – Mark Magro (Review)

  1. This book sounds really interesting. I hadn’t seen it around before but I’m definitely intrigued by the concept, and it sounds amazing as well if all the five star reviews and your own review is anything to go by. I take it this is a stand-alone then, with possibly more books in the future if the author decides to write more in this world? I do love dystopian novels so I may have to add this one to my to-read list.
    Great review! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It was so enjoyable! I would recommend it to you. Zoe is so cute, and Balt is endearing. No insta-love (well, a bit from Balt, but he’s crushing hardcore), and the story is just well done. I hope he writes a sequel…heck, I hope he responds to my message! (He’s a big gamer apparently and so he has other things going on besides the book, I guess, judging by his blog)

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Nah, I checked. It came out in 2015. Plus the guy never messaged me back, so he’s probably moved on. I saw on his blog that he’s working on 2 books, but neither is a continuation. I’m bummed because it is a little ambiguous at the end. But then again, it took Lois Lowry 10 years to write a sequel to The Giver.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, they try to escape the underground labs to the Surface.
      It’s so far a standalone, but it ends where it could be easily picked up, though I think the ending on it is very sweet as is. But love to see more of the story I hope there is a sequel.

      Liked by 1 person

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