The fifth of the Heinlein juveniles, Between Planets was copyrighted by Robert A. Heinlein in 1951 and published that same year by Charles Scribner’s Sons of New York. The book was illustrated by Clifford Geary. I mention this because I believe that in order to fully appreciate the early juveniles; you should see the illustrations as they were done for the original hardback books. These books are all out of print now, but are still available at independent bookstores, most easily online through abebooks. Many are old library editions, but are quite serviceable and will give you the full flavor of what the book was intended to do at the time it was published.
Since a substantial part of the plot depends on mystery and suspense, I will only present an outline. On Heinlein’s time line of future history this book occurs during a period when the solar system is fully settled and exploited. But the extra terrestrial colonies are chafing under the yoke of their Earth-side masters and there is talk of rebellion. This is the first of the juveniles in which Heinlein gives us a clear vision of what warfare would be like in such a time. Don Harvey, the main character, is a student at a boarding school in New Mexico and because the winds of war are rising, is called home by his parents, who are research scientists living on Mars. His repeatedly thwarted attempts to get to Mars are the main plot of the story. During Don’s journey, we are introduced to a host of interesting characters, including a giant saurian Venusian named Sir Isaac Newton, some other lesser but well drawn human characters, the comical “move-overs” shown in one of the illustrations and to Isobel Costello, the first prominent female character in this series of books. All of Heinlein’s subsequent books have significant female characters.
This is tough book. Don is continually faced with hard decisions, decisions for which there is no clear cut answer. There is a little more moral ambiguity in this book than in the earlier ones. Very often, Don is forced to trust his own instincts for what is right, rather than being able to reason out a solution and if there is an important theme here, it is that. Sometimes a certain action is the right thing to do, whether it seems logical or expedient at the time. Early in the story, for example, after first cooperating with police investigators he decides that this wrong. He then chooses to resist and even though he loses the fight, he feels better about it. His conscience knows that it is right to resist evil, especially when it is hard.
My son, who was about 17 at the time he read the book, informed me that I should write a book like this. I agree and if I had Heinlein’s talent for description and characterization, I would. If suspense, high adventure and intrigue are your cup of tea, then read this one!