See you in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng, is a middle grade listed book that I had from Net-Galley to review prior to its publication in March. So this review has been on Goodreads and on the Amazon site for a few weeks. I hope you don’t mind, because it’s my offering for S in the A to Z Challenge today.
See You In The Cosmos
by Jack Cheng
Alex is an eleven-year-old with a passion for space, rocketry and for launching his rocket into space. He has a dog called Carl Sagan, named for his hero. At one point the title was See You in the Cosmos, Carl Sagan – in some versions of the listings it still is, in some not – maybe people thought Carl Sagan wrote this book.
Alex is preparing to launch his homemade rocket. He made and tested it in a simulation online, with information and ideas shared with the amateur rocketforum, which hosts the summer rocket launching camp in Arizona. Alex bought a train ticket to get to the nearest town, and will join the others to share lifts when he gets there. He’s arranged it all, ‘because he has the responsibility level of a thirteen year-old’. He’s also recording just about everything onto an iPod sprayed gold, like the record sent into space with data suggested by the real Carl Sagan to represent Earth to aliens. That’s the way this book works: it’s the podcast to the aliens.
It’s a delightful idea, but some of you will have already wondered about Alex’s parents. Alex’s mom seems to be dysfunctional at present, and spends all her time in her room, except when she eats the meals Alex has made for her. Alex’s dad left when he was three, and nobody talks about him. Alex has found someone with the same name and date of birth in a marriage registry in Las Vegas…
There is a lot to like about this book, once you get used to Alex’s stream-of-consciousness recording to the aliens. It’s cute and funny and maybe it’s representative of an eleven-year-old rocket obsessive, but it some ways he’s older than that and in others he’s much, much younger. He gets a lot of help along the way, because he’s cute and funny… and obviously needs a bit of guidance.
As time went on I wondered whether the material was really appropriate for a middle-grade book – the publishers are Puffin, a junior version of Penguin in the UK, so I was surprised they supported a book with a lot of disturbing detail about mental health and potential social worker involvement. I know, I’m old fashioned. Kids having multiple parents living in numerous homes is pretty normal. If you take to the podcast style (I did) it’s compulsive reading. If you don’t, well… it’s an irritation, at the very least.
But it left me uncomfortable. As a flight of fancy for a 10 or 11 year old the rocket camp is fun. Looking for Dad is normal. Coping with all the strangers in his life turns out okay (but what if it hadn’t been?). Some of the scenic writing is delicious. Talking to the aliens about whether they do things the way we do is cute.
It reminded me of some of the stories from Up, Up and Away; MG students wrote those with a heavy steer from their college. But this author is not a kid, and I don’t know whether kids will enjoy this book or not.
I decided not to tag it as MG or Children’s reading on my Goodreads shelves.
What do you think about dealing with these issues in MG reading?