11-year-old Alex Petroski loves space and rockets, his mom, his brother, and his dog Carl Sagan - named for his hero, the real-life astronomer. All he wants is to launch his golden iPod into space the way Carl Sagan (the man, not the dog) launched his Golden Record on the Voyager spacecraft in 1977. From Colorado to New Mexico, Las Vegas to L.A., Alex records a journey on his iPod to show other lifeforms what life on earth, his earth, is like. But his destination keeps changing. And the funny, lost, remarkable people he meets along the way can only partially prepare him for the secrets he'll uncover - from the truth about his long-dead dad to the fact that, for a kid with a troubled mom and a mostly not-around brother, he has way more family than he ever knew. From Goodreads.
I don't generally read middle grade/young fiction. I've read a few in the past, and my opinion has always been "not for me". As they are aimed at younger readers, I find the voice to generally be to young for me, personally, to find enjoyable. So when I was sent an unsolicited proof of See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng, I was sure I wouldn't be reading it. The summary on the press release said, "To read the first page is to fall in love with Alex and his view of our big, beautiful, complicated world," so I read the first page, and there was definitely something about Alex's voice. So when I saw it was available on NetGalley - which is now my preferred method of reading - I snapped it up. I'm so glad I gave this book a chance because it's absolutely beautiful.
Alex is a huge fan of space and astronomy, and his hero, Carl Sagan. Wanting to follow in his heroes footsteps, he plans to take his golden iPod, along with his hand built rocket, onto which he's making recordings for lifeforms from outer space, to a rocket launching festival in New Mexico.Things don't go quite as planned, though, and with his golden iPod, he goes on a journey, meeting people along the way, and sharing his experiences with the alien lifeforms through his iPod.
Oh my god, Alex is the most adorable young boy I think I've ever come across in fiction! At first, I was kind of worried; I was enjoying it, but I knew this book was for younger readers, and having them read a book about a boy who goes off on his own to a rocket festival for several days, meeting up with strangers... it made me feel really uncomfortable. I was worried that young readers might be inspired by Alex for the wrong reasons, and feel it's ok to go off and do things on their own. But this side of things is dealt with; although it all feels like a fun adventure for Alex and he doesn't realise the seriousness of what he's done, or just how lucky he has been, it is dealt with, with the serious a situation like this in real life would be dealt with.
But Alex is just wonderful! He is so smart, but also quite innocent, too, and it's because of both these qualities that the way he sees the world is so gorgeous. This book will make you think; I think we lose something as we grow up and become adults, and so looking at the world through the eyes of a child is so eye-opening. Alex is still learning, and doesn't know everything, so he makes absurd guesses, and sometimes his absurd guesses come closer to the truth than the actual answers to his questions. I think the reason I enjoyed this book so much is because I am an adult, because I know what Alex doesn't, or understand what he's yet to grasp, which makes him all the more adorable.
See You in the Cosmos is also a heartbreaking novel - though although it may not break the heart of the book's target audience, it will make them pause and realise something isn't quite right here. Alex doesn't have the best home life, but he wouldn't say that. He loves his mum, who goes off for very long walks, or has quiet days where she does and says very little. But he enjoys looking after her, going grocery shopping with the money his older brother sends over and cooking all the meals. He enjoys his part-time job at the gas station, where he organises the magazines for $5 a day, which he saves up for his rocket parts and train ticket to the festival. He loves his older brother, who now lives in LA for his job, who he hasn't seen in well over a year. He doesn't know any different, and he's happy. He doesn't seem to realise that his mother's behaviour is cause for concern, he doesn't realise that she should be looking after him, not the other way round, that it shouldn't have been so easy for him to be able to go to the rocket festival all by himself. But we know, and so our hearts break for him, but at the same we adore him even more, because he's such a happy, lovely little boy who has no complaints. This is his normal, and he's happy.
I loved pretty much everyone Alex meets on his little adventure. His story could have turned out so differently if the people he met weren't kind and concerned people. You've got to love Zed, the wonderful man who won't leave Alex on his own when he knows he shouldn't have been making his way to the rocket festival on his own in the first place, even though his friend doesn't want to bother with a kid who talks too much and asks too many questions. Zed looks out for him, and he's just awesome. And then there's Terra, Terra who has a story of her own that comes about all because of meeting Alex. God, this book is so full of beautiful and heartbreaking moments!
I'm sure older children will enjoy the story of this lovely half-Filipino, half-white-American boy who is obsessed with all things space, but I actually think adults will love it more. It's an absolutely gorgeous debut novel, and I implore you all to give it a go! It really has made me think differently about middle grade/young fiction, and I'll definitely be picking up more novels in this category in future.
Thank you to Puffin via NetGalley for the eProof.
Published: 2nd March 2017
Jack Cheng's Website
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