Book Description and Author Q&A! Make sure you read it all 🙂
THE NEPTUNE CHALLENGE
(sequel to the award-winning The Neptune Project)
Genetically engineered to survive in the ocean, Nere and her friends are recovering from their long, treacherous journey to refuge and settling in at Safety Harbor. Despite its name, plenty of dangers still lurk just outside the colony’s boundaries. When two among them are kidnapped, the remaining Neptune kids and their loyal dolphins must set out on a mission even more perilous than their first: infiltrate the kidnapper’s fortress to save their friends and steal away a vital scientific secret that may save the world and its oceans. Fighting terrifying mutated creatures and teens, will the Neptune kids find a way to save their friends, themselves, and their underwater world? The stakes couldn’t be higher in this thrilling sequel to the award-winning The Neptune Project.
Our Safety Harbor inlet is calm this morning. Small swells lift and lower me gently. Already the sky overhead is starting to gray, and clouds along the horizon blush pink and red. I can just make out the hardy spruce trees that cling to sharp outcroppings along the shore. The morning is quiet except for the rush of the nearby surf and the cry of a gull winging its way across the dawn sky.
Mariah, the leader of my family’s dolphin pod, finds me bobbing on the swells. Her little calf, Tisi, swims a tight circle around me while her daughter Sokya rushes up and flips water in my face.
“What worries you this morning?” Mariah asks as she cranes her head out of the water so she can see me better. At forty, Mariah is a grandmother several times over. Her teeth are a little worn, and her right side is scarred by an old shark bite, but her eyes are still bright with intelligence. Mariah is also amazing at reading my moods.
“There’re so many people at Safety Harbor,” I try to explain while I rub Sokya’s favorite spot, in front of her dorsal. The slick, rubbery feel of her skin is familiar and comforting. “And they all think Dad’s awesome and great at running things. I’m afraid they expect me to be just like him. That Janni girl wants me to join her Sea Rangers and help fight the Marine Guard and sharks, but I just want to work with dolphins.”
“You led us safely here through many fights and many miles of sea,” Mariah reminds me.
I wince, remembering the dangerous journey my friends and I had to make from the southern sector to reach my father’s colony. I hadn’t really led everyone here safely. Two of our group died on our trip to Safety Harbor, and we lost sweet Pani, one of Mariah’s granddaughters, all killed by Marine Guard divers sent by the Western Collective to capture or eliminate us.
“We never would have made it here without your help,” I say to Mariah.
“I helped the most,” Sokya declares. She leaps out of the water and lands on her side, dousing me with a wave.
Did you always want to be a writer?
No, I actually wanted to be a vet. My senior year of high school, though, I had a chance to intern with a small animal practice, and I discovered just how much time vets spend spaying, neutering, and sewing. That’s when I decided to become a history teacher!
What were some of your favorite childhood stories/books?
I’ve always loved survival stories. I used to daydream about living in a tree house like the family in The Swiss Family Robinson. I longed to tame a hawk like the boy in My Side of the Mountainor train a devoted dog companion like Karana did in The Island of the Blue Dolphins. When I wrote The Neptune Project and The Neptune Challenge, I was trying to write the sort of story I loved as a girl. So it’s not surprising that survival is a strong element in my books!
Did you have a childhood hero?
I have to confess that for a long time my favorite cartoon hero was… Marine Boy. He was the star of an early Japanese anime cartoon. After he chewed a stick of aqua-gum, he could breathe seawater and he had nifty propellers built into his boots. He was best friends with a mermaid and a dolphin. I couldn’t wait until Saturday mornings when I could watch Marine Boy save sea creatures and people in terrible peril under the waves.
Why do you write about dolphins?
Since my dad read The Voyages of Dr. Doolittle to me when I was a girl, I’ve always been fascinated by the topic of animal intelligence. Dolphins are incredibly smart and possess among the largest brain-size-to-body ratio of any species on the planet. There are many documented cases of them helping people in distress in the ocean, and they will work as a team to keep sick or wounded dolphins near the surface so they can breathe.
I was lucky enough to go swimming with these amazing marine mammals in Hawaii. I’ll never forget hearing their complex squeaks and whistles as hundreds of spinner dolphins swam together through the sunlit sea. Scientists doubt that dolphins have syntax or language, but there’s no question in my mind that dolphins communicate with each other in sophisticated ways. A team in Scotland recently proved that dolphins use signature whistles, essentially calling each other by name. Trainers have discovered that dolphins can learn an amazing number of words and they can learn that the order of words changes their meaning.
I hope that if we find out just how smart dolphins and other marine mammals are, we might respect them and their habitat more.
Photograph of a Pacific white-sided dolphin by Chad King at the Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary
Tell us a little about your passion for scuba diving.
I grew up in Colorado where we are definitely short on oceans. So I’ve always been fascinated by the sea. I never had a chance to see what was under the waves until my husband decided that we should take a scuba diving course. After we were certified, we went on a deep dive to a shipwreck, and that experience was so fascinating, I was hooked. There are so many beautiful and strange species in the sea, and scuba is just about the best way to see them.
I did have a bit of a scare diving in a lava tube off the Big Island in Hawaii a few years ago, so now I try not to go inside anything when I’m diving. I like being able to get back to the surface (and air) quickly and easily!
When did you decide that your story idea needed to become a book?
I’d been wanting to write a sea book for a long time, and my concern over climate change has been growing for years. I also keep up with advances in science. The rapid progress we’ve made in genetic research is both frightening and exciting. Finally, I watch trends in teen fiction. I was delighted when the vampire craze died out and dystopian books became popular. I knew that I didn’t have a good vampire book in me, but I’ve always loved science fiction and dystopian is just a particular flavor of sci/fi.
So when dystopian novels became hot, I had a hunch it was time to try writing and selling this wild idea I had for a story about a group of genetically altered kids who had to survive in the sea. That hunch proved to be a good one. The Neptune Project promptly sold at auction and overseas, and it seems to capture the imaginations of a broad age range of readers.
Polly Holyoke is a former teacher and loves reading, camping, skiing, scuba diving and hiking in the desert. She lives in Plano, TX with three rescue dogs, two spoiled cats and a nice husband who tolerates piles of books all over their house. Her debut middle-grade novel,The Neptune Project, was published by Disney/Hyperion and was selected to the 2014-15 Texas Bluebonnet Master List along with state reading lists in Maryland and Ohio. It was also named one of Bank Street’s Best Children’s Books of 2014. Her second children’s book, The Neptune Challenge, was released May, 2015.
Here you can find a treasure box of information about the series, the sea, and writing. There is information for school/group visits, use in the classroom (including curriculum guides), and links for extended research.
You can contact Polly, and her publicist via the “contact” page.
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