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Book Review: The Gravity of Us by Phil Stamper

Publisher’s description

I’m so starry-eyed for this wise, romantic gem of a book.” – Becky Albertalli, bestselling author of Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

In this smart, heart-warming YA debut perfect for fans of Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera, two teens find love when their lives are uprooted for their parents’ involvement in a NASA mission to Mars.

Cal wants to be a journalist, and he’s already well underway with almost half a million followers on his FlashFame app and an upcoming internship at Buzzfeed. But his plans are derailed when his pilot father is selected for a highly-publicized NASA mission to Mars. Within days, Cal and his parents leave Brooklyn for hot and humid Houston.

With the entire nation desperate for any new information about the astronauts, Cal finds himself thrust in the middle of a media circus. Suddenly his life is more like a reality TV show, with his constantly bickering parents struggling with their roles as the “perfect American family.”

And then Cal meets Leon, whose mother is another astronaut on the mission, and he finds himself falling head over heels—and fast. They become an oasis for each other amid the craziness of this whole experience. As their relationship grows, so does the frenzy surrounding the Mars mission, and when secrets are revealed about ulterior motives of the program, Cal must find a way to get to the truth without hurting the people who have become most important to him.

Amanda’s thoughts

“Between the boy in my bed and the peace in the house, maybe this astronaut thing was exactly what our family needed” (200).

Whenever I read, I like to look for the one line that will grab readers’ interest if you hold up the book and quote the line. The above line totally sums up the major plot points: love interest, family disharmony, and the “astronaut thing.” YEP.

Do you need to suspend your disbelief quite a bit to believe that the events of the book would actually play out how they do? Sure. But even realistic fiction is still fiction. Just go with it. So we’re supposed to believe that a mid-range teenage influencer can help snag his dad a job with NASA and possibly save the entire mission. Fine. I’ll buy it—because the rest of the story is fun, cute, charming, and all kinds of other seemingly empty descriptors that just add up to “GOOD.”

There’s a lot to like in this story. Leon, the love interest, and main character Cal’s mom deal with mental health issues (depression and anxiety, respectively). There’s repeated casual mention of this as well as how they cope with and treat it. The celeb news and gossip show that hounds the astronauts and their families and that Cal repeatedly goes up against is satisfyingly terrible and infuriating. They scheme, plot, manipulate, and use people all while accusing Cal of the same. Cal seemed to kind of understand the path his life was likely on—he knew what he wanted to do and where he wanted to do it. But moving to Texas for the space program changed all of that. Though Cal is relatively famous, he’s also just a regular kid making mistakes (he’s a self-centered and crappy friend at times), reevaluating his future, falling in love, screwing it up, and figuring it all out.

We can always use more ownvoices books featuring queer boys, so I’m glad this one exists. Readers looking for a BIG romance may be disappointed, but those looking for a unique story about the curveballs life can throw at you and the unexpected ways you may find love will enjoy this geeky story about dating, friendship, space, and politics.

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781547600144
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication date: 02/04/2020
Age Range: 13 – 17 Years

Book Review: The Final Six by Alexandra Monir

thefinalsixPublisher’s Book Description:

When Leo, an Italian championship swimmer, and Naomi, a science genius from California, are two of the twenty-four teens drafted into the International Space Training Camp, their lives are forever altered. After erratic climate change has made Earth a dangerous place to live, the fate of the population rests on the shoulders of the final six who will be scouting a new planet. Intense training, global scrutiny, and cutthroat opponents are only a few of the hurdles the contestants must endure in this competition.

For Leo, the prospect of traveling to Europa—Jupiter’s moon—to help resettle humankind is just the sense of purpose he’s been yearning for since losing his entire family in the flooding of Rome. Naomi, after learning of a similar space mission that mysteriously failed, suspects the ISTC isn’t being up front with them about what’s at risk.

As the race to the final six advances, the tests get more challenging—even deadly. With pressure mounting, Naomi finds an unexpected friend in Leo, and the two grow closer with each mind-boggling experience they encounter. But it’s only when the finalists become fewer and their destinies grow nearer that the two can fathom the full weight of everything at stake: the world, the stars, and their lives.

Karen’s Thoughts:

I have a tendency to be drawn to big issue books that make a powerful statement. My reviews often contain the words powerful, necessary, impactful, etc. But the truth is, I DO like to read fun books just for the fun of it. And some of my favorite ones involve outer space or the prospect of outer space.

The Final Six is a mixture of Space Camp + Climate Change + Political Thriller. This is a pretty thrilling combination if you ask me.

It begins by establishing that the world is on the brink of imminent destruction from climate change. The crisis feels real and far too close to home. So a group of teens are selected to compete in a training and they will be whittled down to “the final six”, the six teens that will be sent with some A.I. technology into space to help terraform and colonize a planet to save the human race. So there’s a little bit of reality show competition thrown in here as well.

While in training, Naomi first sets out to jeopardize the mission because she does not want to leave her brother. But she soon begins to suspect that they are not being told the truth about the mission, their future, and a past failed mission. So Naomi, a wicked smart scientist and excellent hacker, begins to investigate, with the help of Leo, who very much wants this mission to take place because he feels he has nothing else to live for. I very much loved reading about this strong, confident and remarkably intelligent young woman and her relationship with both her family and the developing relationship with Leo.

There is intrigue and backstabbing and romance, everything you want in a good book. I found it very enjoyable and didn’t want to put it down.

I will say, the only unbelievable part to me is that in the back of my head I kept thinking: there is no way that any adults would be willing to send teenagers alone on a space mission to do this and there is no way they could realistically train in such a short amount of time, but I also kept being willing and able to suspend that disbelief because I was enjoying the read. At the end of the book some of the teens, and I’m not going to spoil which ones, take off for space and I am looking forward to the next installment to find out what happens.

I highly recommend this book.

For more Climate Change Fiction (Cli-Fi), check out:

What is CliFi? An Earth Day Primer

YA/Teen | Eco-Fiction

For More Books that involve space travel, and I’m excited to see this theme re-surging in YA this year, check these titles out:

We Love These 6 YA Books Set in Outer Space

Our Most Anticipated Science Fiction Novels of 2018