Review: Jack Cheng’s MG contemporary See You in the Cosmos 

I bet you’ll enjoy this fantastic middle grade roadtrip story even if you aren’t crazy about the movie Contact, but you’ll get even more out of it if you’re as much of a space fan as I am.

When I saw this on NetGalley I knew we were destined for each other, like the Curiosity Rover was for Mars. Rocket enthusiast Alex and his dog (Carl Sagan) make their way improbably across the American Southwest to a launch event for amateur rocket builders, despite the fact that Alex is only 11 (“I’m 13 in responsibility years.”)

What’s heartbreaking, as is the case in a lot of the touching middle grade stories I love most, is the reason his age is older in responsibility years: a mother who’s suffering from we’re-not-sure-what, but it’s some variety of mental illness that means she’s checked out of parenting.

Told in a series of audio recordings on a golden iPod that Alex intends to send out into the universe (as soon as he’s able to make a rocket that reaches outer space),the story is ostensibly addressed to the aliens, whom Alex wants to acquaint with the strangeness of human existence.

But what we see is Alex — and the kind strangers who encounter him — slowly change as they come to understand more about humanity, and themselves.

The story’s voice, humor, and Alex’s discovery about what family really is and why persistence matters, make this one of my absolute favorite reads of the last few years. The repeated references back to the movie Contact and Dr. Ellie Arroway are just the icing on a perfect cake. “They should have sent a poet,” Alex muses more than once.

Well, they did, and his name is Jack Cheng.

By the way, I saw the PR for this compare Cheng’s book to Walk Two Moons, but I didn’t find it anywhere near as sad – it’s more in the life-affirming category of Cosmic and The True Meaning of Smekday.

Finally, if somebody doesn’t press a copy of this book into Neil deGrasse Tyson’s and Brannon Braga’s hands, it’ll be a terrible shame.

See You in the Cosmos, Carl Sagan

Amazon rating: 5 stars

Published 2 March & 28 February 2017 by Puffin / Penguin Random House in UK and the US

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