See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng
|See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: For a host of character, and a powerful American look at a form that seemed very British before now, this comes highly recommended.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 320||Date: March 2017|
|External links: Author's website|
Meet Alex. He's just eleven, but is sure he has the responsibility age of a thirteen year old. He'll prove this by taking his rocket Voyager 3 and his dog Carl Sagan on an Amtrak train to the desert to a launch festival for hobbyist rocket-makers – and all without the help of the adult brother he only knows now from phone calls, his seemingly comatose couch potato mother, and the father he was told died when Alex was three years old. This book is a transcript of verbal essays and conversations he has made to put in his rocket to send to the stars, so aliens can learn about life on earth in 2017. The fact that we're able to find out what's on it does seem to suggest a failure with Voyager 3, but as for finding out about life – we can only suppose the lad is a bit more successful…
Well, for all the obviousness of this book, and for all the similarities the book has with the Curious Incident genre, I really did fall for its charms, and quickly too. You could say that if Alex were just a touch more naïve then things would fall apart – he clearly isn't seeing the truth as regards his family, but it's not a problem that he's an unreliable narrator due to his age. Alex is a strong, responsible child, and quite adept in getting adults to help him out – and even if he's not the brightest when it comes to understanding the truth (or rocketry) he's quite loveable. I didn't even mind when he kept bawling his young eyes out – perhaps him calling it hurricaning helped.
Perhaps his hobby is a little too male-only, and that side of things needed a stronger female figure to make the book entirely universally loved, but it's a very minor quibble – the book isn't about space launches, and a very strong and enjoyable female does turn up. Not only is the book on the well-worn path laid by Haddon's breakout volume, it also has the brilliant conceit around its structure – and even when some dialogue is transcribed with credited speakers a la a play script, and when some is given in flashback by Alex's narration, the whole thing just works wonderfully, and I didn't mind the tiny touches of the unlikely in its construction. It was far too heart-warming for me to worry.
It's also a fairly brave read, I guess – the middle third has a lot that isn't about what the young reader initially turning to these pages would expect it to be, for there is less about space, less about Carl Sagan, and more about the need to travel to find yourself, and to connect. In that way the book could work for a teen audience, even if the young hero is not in the age bracket they normally read about. Heck, the book worked for this reader anyway, on just about every level. My proof copy suggests two words have been taken from the title, which might have been dropped in light of potential plot spoilers. The very fact I'm that concerned in the minutiae of this book's presentation should tell you something. And the very fact I'm giving this debut YA book such a high mark means I'm already looking forward to what the author does next. There's too much character here for me not to.
I must thank the publishers for my review copy.
A Seven-Letter Word by Kim Slater is also a powerful and greatly different Curious Incident type.
You can read more book reviews or buy See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng at Amazon.com.
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