See You in the Cosmos, Carl Sagan
Dial, 2017 314 pages
Alex, who is eleven in regular years and thirteen in maturity, leaves his mother with enough food to get through the weekend, grabs his dog and his rocket, and boards a train to New Mexico for a rocket festival. We hear all about his adventures as he records them into his "golden iPod", a nod to Carl Sagan's famous Golden Record, which he plans to launch into space on his rocket. Along the way Alex meets many interesting people, including a non-speaking Buddhist and his entrepreneurial best friend. The rocket festival is all Alex hoped it would be and he meets many new like-minded connections. His launch proves to be disappointing, but Alex overcomes the set-backs and chooses to learn from them. An unexpected e-mail leads him to Las Vegas to track down a father who he believed to be dead. The reunion with his long-lost father never materializes, but he does meet a previously unknown half sister, who accompanies him first to LA to try to locate his adult brother and then home to Colorado. Back in Colorado things are not quite right. Mom is nowhere to be seen and the house is in a shambles. A freak accident lands Alex in the hospital and the truth is finally revealed about the severity of his mother's mental health. Social services must get involved and Alex's older brother returns home to join their new sister to try to untangle the mess that is Alex's life. There are no easy answers and not everything turns out "happily ever after", but all characters find themselves where they should be and are at peace with their situations, especially our hero.
First time author, Jack Cheng offers a great book with many layers. The storytelling device used, narration into the microphone of an iPod, lends credibility to the story and makes the reader think they are experiencing it right along with Alex. Sometimes the story is told through Alex's narration, while other times it is in a script form as the various character interact while the iPod is still recording. This book reminded me a bit of The Boy in the Stripped Pajamas in that we see how Alex is processing the adult world around him. The reader knows more of what is really going on than Alex does and Cheng manages to capture the voice and thinking process of an eleven year old perfectly. As I read the story I actually thought that Alex may be an unreliable narrator and that things were actually worse than they were, which kept me turning pages. I also found myself reading quickly because I was truly worried about this character and needed to know that he was safe. Alex never worries about himself and innocently explores life, trusts strangers, and bumbles on. Thank goodness it all works out for him and he makes amazing contacts that not only help him out financially, but allow for him to achieve his dreams. This story will pretty much appeal to all readers, but will especially be enjoyed by space-minded kids who will relate to Alex's obsession. I learned things I didn't know before and had some good laughs over Alex's many space jokes. Readers will enjoy this armchair adventure with a new friend, learn to maybe not take their lives or families for granted, and pick up some interesting space facts along the way.