Through a child’s eyes

Eleven-year-old Alex Pet­roski wants noth­ing more than to em­u­late his hero Carl Sagan and send a rocket up to space with record­ings of Earth life.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Reads - Re­view by TAN SHIOW CHIN star2@thes­tar.com.my

IT isn’t of­ten that an adult writer like Jack Cheng can so per­fectly cap­ture the voice of an 11-year-old kid.

In this case, the (fic­tional) kid is Alex Pet­roski, who “loves space and rock­ets, his mom, his brother, and his dog, Carl Sagan – named for his hero, the real-life as­tronomer”, ac­cord­ing to the book’s blurb.

Alex may be just 11, but he be­lieves he is “more re­spon­si­ble than even a lot of four­teen-year-olds”.

That’s prob­a­bly true, as Alex seems to do most of the house­work and cook­ing, as well as tak­ing care of his dog, him­self.

His elder brother Ronnie is an agent in Los An­ge­les who hasn’t been home in over a year, and he lost his father when he was three.

We find out early on that Alex dis­cov­ered Carl Sagan (the dog) as a puppy in the lo­cal su­per­mar­ket’s park­ing lot.

“Then I took him back to my house and my mom was ly­ing on the sofa watch­ing her shows like she usu­ally does, and I told her I got the gro­ceries but I got a pup also and I’ll take good care of him I prom­ise, I’ll play with him and feed him and give him a bath and all the stuff you’re sup­posed to say.

“And she said, ‘You’re in the way!’ So I got out of the way.

“My best friend Benji’s mom would freak if he brought home a pup, but my mom, she doesn’t care as long as I make us din­ner and don’t bother her when she’s watch­ing her shows.

“She’s a pretty cool mom.”

What I love about this pas­sage, and in­deed, the en­tire book, is how Cheng man­ages to con­vey the re­al­ity of Alex’s sit­u­a­tion with so few words, yet also por­tray his child­ish naivete and trust­ing in­no­cence with­out mak­ing Alex seem stupid.

The book is writ­ten in the form of record­ings that Alex is mak­ing to put into his rocket.

Each chap­ter is one record­ing, typ­i­cally a nar­ra­tion from Alex on what has hap­pened to him, al­though Cheng also in­cludes am­bi­ent

See You In The Cos­mos, Carl Sagan

Au­thor:

Pub­lisher:

noise and con­ver­sa­tions as would hap­pen in a real record­ing.

Fol­low­ing in the ex­am­ple of his hero Sagan, Alex in­tends to send an iPod up in his rocket with sounds from Earth, in­clud­ing de­scrip­tions of his own life, as a record for alien life forms.

The story starts out with him pre­par­ing to travel to SHARF, the South­west High Al­ti­tude Rocket Fes­ti­val, in Al­bu­querque, New Mex­ico.

Of course, this is a bit of a prob­lem as 11-year-olds are not al­lowed to travel by them­selves on pub­lic trans­port – a prob­lem, as Alex plans to take a train from his home in Colorado.

But luck­ily, he meets kind strangers who help him along the way, in­clud­ing Zed, who is also head­ing to SHARF and is un­der a vow of si­lence, and Steve, Zed’s friend who is a lit­tle re­luc­tant to be sad­dled with a young kid and has a dif­fi­cult girl­friend.

Along the way, Alex is no­ti­fied by the web­site An­ces­try.com that some­one with his father’s ex­act name and birth­date was mar­ried in Las Ve­gas to some­one called Donna (not his mother’s name).

Sud­denly won­der­ing whether his father might ac­tu­ally be alive, and pos­si­bly suf­fer­ing from am­ne­sia, Alex de­cides to go to Las Ve­gas and try to look for him, hitch­ing a ride with Zed and Steve who are go­ing home to Los An­ge­les along the way.

This is very much a char­ac­ter-driven book and I loved how Cheng man­aged to write so bril­liantly about un­com­fort­able sit­u­a­tions from an in­no­cent child’s per­spec­tive.

Al­though the book is clas­si­fied for those 10 years and up, I feel that adult read­ers will prob­a­bly have a greater ap­pre­ci­a­tion for Alex’s sit­u­a­tion, which he him­self is some­times un­aware of.

Younger read­ers will prob­a­bly en­joy the ad­ven­ture as­pect of Alex’s jour­ney more.

Def­i­nitely rec­om­mended for a slice of real life through a child’s eyes.

Jack Cheng

Dial Books for Young Read­ers, con­tem­po­rary fic­tion

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