See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng, Dial (Penguin), $16.99, on our shelves now
I loved this! It’s funny (that dog!), it’s sad (Alex!), it’s compelling… I could list good things forever. Outstanding for everyone – ten years and up, all the way to adult.
Alex Petroski, eleven years old (but thirteen in responsibility years, according to him) and obsessed with space and rockets, sets out alone from Colorado with his home-made rocket to travel to the Arizona desert for a rocket festival, Southwest High-Altitude Rocket Festival or SHARF.
His rocket doesn’t go so well, but it turns out that SHARF is Alex’s launching point (see what I did there?). Following a trail of vague clues, he and his over-sensitive dog, named Carl Sagan after his astronomer hero, embark on an adventure to find the father that Alex believed was dead.
Alex records his journey on a golden iPod that he hopes one day to send to space to show other life forms what life on earth is like. What the aliens and the readers will hear is the voice of an intelligent, but naive boy, who is also incredibly funny.
Gradually, it becomes clear that although Alex genuinely believes his life to be wonderful, it’s a disaster. He lives with his mother who is, at best, mentally absent, and at the very least, completely neglectful. And the adult brother Alex idolizes has little interest in him.
Holden Caulfield without the bitterness, Alex tumbles through his journey, making decisions that might seem on the surface to be reckless, but his big heart and powerful optimism remain undaunted. Through loss, tragedy and disaster, Alex never loses his trust or stops believing that things will only turn out well. Until, right when things actually seem to be coming together, they all fall apart again.
This multi-layered, but never heavy or preachy, novel is one of the best I have read in a long time. Alex’s voice is just incredible. The aliens are in for a treat.