Deb Aronson | Author creates a lovable character

Deb Aronson | Author creates a lovable character

By DEB ARONSON

The first sign that "See You in the Cosmos," by Jack Cheng (Dial Books), is unusual is the opening, in which the narrator (Alex Petroski) speaks to aliens.

"Who are you?

What do you look like?

Do you have one head or two?

More?

Do you have light brown skin like I do or smooth grey skin like a dolphin or spiky green skin like a cactus?"

The reader also quickly realizes that the whole story is a transcript of voice recordings on Alex's iPod. The nature of this story-telling method creates some extra laughs (not sight gags ... audio gags?) later in the story.

Alex is 11 ("13 in responsibility years"). He lives in Rockview, Colo., with a mother sunk in depression (we presume) and his pet dog, Carl Sagan. He has an older brother who lives in L.A. and sends them money. Alex's father, he believes, died when he was 3 years old. Alex doesn't have many friends at school, but he has a robust online community within the rocketforum.org listserv.

Alex's plan is to send his golden iPod up in space with his rocket at the SHARF (Southwest High-Altitude Rocket Festival) competition, just like his hero, Carl Sagan, sent a "golden record" into deep space in the Voyager 1 and 2 missions.

From the moment Alex takes a train to the desert for the weekend SHARF rocket competition (leaving his mother with several meals in the freezer), he goes from one misadventure to another.

Along the way, he meets kind and generous people, all of whom become enamored of him or at least take him under their wing.

As befits a middle-grade novel, Alex is never in any danger, even if he seems to be putting a little more trust in people than he might. His travels include him going to Las Vegas to see if his father isn't dead but perhaps has amnesia (since ancestry.com sent him information about a man with the same name and birthday as his dad living in Las Vegas), and on to L.A. to catch up with his older, very busy brother.

I don't want to give too much away, but eventually Child and Family Services gets involved and Alex's situation changes dramatically.

Although it is never mentioned, considering Alex's general cluelessness about his fellow humans and also his deep obsession with rockets and space travel, and the fact that he dresses in a maroon turtleneck and brown jacket like Sagan, the reader wonders if perhaps Alex is on the autism spectrum.

In any case, I could imagine that any young reader who can identify with Alex on this level would be thrilled to find a character like him in the center of this novel.

Cheng has created a thoroughly lovable individual who never complains about having to cook and clean and travel all by himself.

Alex is rarely scared, has great initiative and is full of love, curiosity and facts. Lots of facts, especially about space. I am not especially interested in space or rockets or even Carl Sagan, but Alex made me care about all those things. And about him. No one can read this book and not develop a real affection for Alex and all his quirks.

Deb Aronson is an Urbana-based author whose nonfiction book about famed racehorse Rachel Alexandra is "a girl-power story on four legs."

Topics (1):Books
-