Title: See You in the Cosmos
Author: Jack Cheng
Genre: Teen/MG Fiction
Age Range: 11+
A funny, luminous, utterly moving novel about a space-obsessed boy, his dog Carl Sagan, and a journey toward family, love, hope, and awe.
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.
For fans of Wonder and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Jack Cheng’s debut is full of joy, optimism, determination, and unbelievable heart. To read the first page is to fall in love with Alex and his view of our big, beautiful, complicated world. To read the last is to know he and his story will stay with you a long, long time.
Source: ARC from Puffin Books (Penguin) via Amazon Vine
Alex is amazing. He’s so smart and independent and brave and optimistic, yet also naive and innocent and occasionally oblivious as he sets off on his adventure to launch a rocket into space with a golden iPod of sounds for aliens to listen to. He may be inspired by his hero, Carl Sagan, but along the way he seems to inspire plenty of adults as his quest shifts and changes direction, leading to questions about love, life, family and the universe.
Written in a series of recordings, this book drew me in quickly and made for a page-turning read. Alex’s life isn’t easy. His mother is clearly suffering from mental illness (depression at the start, though by the end it’s something else) and he’s her primary care-giver, which doesn’t seem to bother him, he just gets on with it because he loves her and that’s how things are. It did make me wonder about all the adults in his life who apparently know about his home situation and have done nothing to help him, and his older brother doesn’t come out of this particularly well for the most part. But for Alex this is completely normal and as long as he has his rocket and his dog, Carl Sagan, he doesn’t much mind.
There is a lot going on in this book, and although Alex is only eleven (with a responsibility age of thirteen) and this is clearly being marketed for middle grade readers, there were times when I wondered if it really is a children’s book. I liked seeing the adults through Alex’s eyes as he sometimes picks up on what’s going on, sometimes doesn’t, but there’s a lot going on that a younger reader wouldn’t necessarily notice – or even care about – and I’m not sure I would have found this that interesting when I was younger. The beginning is great, with Alex so excited about his rocket, but after that the story becomes a deeper quest about family and love and I don’t know that there’s enough going on to keep younger readers as engaged. I would have picked this up because of the space connection – and probably put it down again when there weren’t enough rockets.
Plus, Alex is really lucky throughout in the people he meets. Yes, he’s a great character, who makes friends easily, but everything could so easily have gone wrong in so many ways. As a child, the main message I probably would have picked up is that travelling alone across country is fine; climbing ladders is not. As an adult I know this book is about so much more, and I can appreciate Alex’s journey as the multifaceted discovery that it is – mostly for the adults around him, rather than Alex himself.
So while I really enjoyed this and found it a charming, engaging read that made me fall completely in love with Alex, I’m less certain that young readers will enjoy it as much. It feels more like a halcyon, nostalgic tale for older readers than a voyage of discovery for children. It’s well written, but it will take a certain type of young reader to get the most out of it.
See You in the Cosmos is Out Now.
Visit Jack Cheng for more details.