March 1st 2016 by Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline
After their successful rocket launch in Project Blastoff, twins Scott and Mark are back. It's 1976, and they are obsessed with the Russian space program's Ilya Ilyushin, who is stranded in space. Along with their friend Barry, they research everything they can about the Russian space program, and eventually decide to contact their friend Egg, whose mother might have some connections. When they visit Egg, who lives near their grandparents, they find out that NASA is considering having a subsidiary launch site at Greenwood Lake. There's a launch tower, an Apollo command module, and a communication center just waiting for them to use to rescue the cosmonaut, since the US government is reluctant to do so. They waste no time in having Barry's brother, Tommy, use his military connections to get Barry to the command center in Russia and in mounting their own rescue mission with second hand space suits and fuel obtained from their science teacher! Their grandfather doesn't stop them, and within the 11 days that Ilyushin has before he runs out of oxygen, they manage to make it to space and back.
While this is all highly unlikely, it's a great romp, and Kelly fills the book with enough space details to make the mission seem within the realm of possibility. In fact, this seemed so real that I had to Google "Ilya Ilyushin" to see if he was real or if a Russian cosmonaut had actually been stranded in space, even though I should have remembered something like that in the news! (He is a complete fabrication.) I loved the passion that Mark and Scott had about traveling in space, saving the cosmonaut, and finding out all they could about every aspect of their rocket launch.
What I enjoyed even more than the space travel was the exquisite attention to period detail in the book. Clearly, Kelly remembers details like the price of gas (57 cents a gallon!), what was on t.v., the things the family ate, and the general pace of life. There's even a delightful interchange when the twins want to call Egg, but know their mother won't want to spend the money to call "long distance". Today's readers will definitely learn a lot about what life was like in the 1970s!
There are really no other middle grade books that present kids taking off into space, but readers who are science fiction fans or deeply interested in science will find Astrotwins a fun fantasy read. Who doesn't want to travel into space with a blenderized peanut butter and jelly sandwich as a snack?