If you love dogs, space, road trips and children’s imaginations then this is the book for you. A great middle-grade debut that is perhaps even more rewarding for older readers.
Eleven-year old Alex loves everything space-related, so much so that he even named his dog after the astronaut (and his hero) Carl Sagan. Together they set out on an adventure to participate in a rocket-launching competition, all whilst capturing Alex’s story and other Earth-sounds on his Golden iPod to send up into space along with the rocket that he has built. Their adventure soon becomes even bigger than they had expected, seeing them travelling from Colorado to New Mexico to Las Vegas and to Los Angeles. With new friends to be made and family secrets to uncover their journey is truly one of great discovery that will see Alex’s world turned upside down.
Let me begin by saying that you will fall in love with Alex. He is adorable beyond words with his astronomy jokes, vivid imagination and love for his family. The book is written as transcripts of all the recordings he makes on his iPod, with Alex’s narration being spot-on for a child of his age. You get a strong sense of who he is and how he views the world, and the book often had me chuckling at his remarks and generally feeling very protective of him. There’s one particular line fairly early on that I think sums up the writing and Alex’s way with words pretty well – “Sometimes the clouds inside my head get big and gray and swirly and then I hurricane through my eyes”.
The rest of the characters we meet on Alex’s adventure are well-rounded with Steve and Ronnie developing from quite selfish individuals into people who are more considerate of the needs of others. Terra and Zen are great from the get-go, and it might just be my existing love for dogs but Carl Sagan is equally sweet (even with his digestive problems).
You could argue that Alex’s decision to travel on his own to New Mexico to meet up with adults he’s only spoken to via an online message board is reckless and irresponsible, however it’s apparent from the beginning that he is quite capable of looking after himself, thus his belief that he’s at least thirteen in responsibility years. He also checks in with his mother and brother along the way – it’s just a shame that they don’t really listen to him. The road trip across four states though is undoubtedly good for him and also for the rest of his family in the long run, with a concluding epiphany that I thought rounded off his journey especially well.
Whilst there are plenty of funny moments the book also touches on more difficult topics such as mental health and abusive relationships, so please bear this in mind if you are considering reading it. There’s also a somewhat gruesome accident which you may wish to skip over a little.
It was easy to get absorbed in the story and I found myself getting through it quite quickly. Given its format it would work brilliantly as an audiobook, and I can imagine listening to it whilst on your own long-distance journey would be fantastic. No matter which format you choose, I definitely recommend picking up this book when it’s released in the UK on 2 March.
Goodreads rating = 4 stars.
[Thank you to NetGalley and Goodreads for both giving me an advanced copy pretty much at the same time.]