Friday, September 29, 2023

Farther than the Moon

Lackey, Lindsay. Farther Than the Moon
September 19, 2023 by Roaring Brook Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Houston has always been interested in space, and he has the wonderful opportunity of attending the JARP (Junior Astronaut Recruitment Program) in Texas. However, it's hard for him to leave home. His father left the family because he couldn't deal with all of the care that Houston's younger brother Robbie needed, so he knows he is leaving his mother to care for him alone. Robbie has fairly acute cerebral palsy, which causes many issues. He's in a wheel chair, and can communicate via an iPad, but has frequent digestive issues and occasional seizures. Houston has promised to take Robbie to the moon with him, and feels bad even leaving him for a limited time to attend camp. Houston's feelings are also complicated when he finds out that the astronaut he admires the most, Carey E. Broderick, is actually his grandfather, but is estranged from his mother. Camp is exciting, and Houston meets his fellow campers, who include Henry Yuen, Maverick Schemp (who is fairly obnoxious and whose father is a politician), Freya Aaby (who has a sensory processing disorder and has trouble making friends), George Kingston (who is Black and deals with ADHD), and the attractive Tahmina. The kids are put into groups for various simulated exercises, and have to deal with personality clashes as well as areas where they may lack expertise. Broderick speaks to the camp when another astronaut has to cancel, and he is shocked to meet Houston. Their meeting doesn't go well, but they make another attempt to connect after the grandfather contacts the mother and asks permission to speak to Houston. The culminating activity at the camp is a Final Mission Proposal. Houston convinces his group that they should come up with a rover than Robbie could control from Earth, after he thinks that people with disabilities won't be allowed to go into space. When the FMP is delivered, with Houston's mother and Robbie in attendance, Robbie is inconsolable. Will Houston really leave him behind the way both his father and grandfather did? 
Strengths: Houston is a well developed character who is dealing with some family problems in a realistic way. The estrangement from the grandfather is handled well, and I especially like that he contacted the mother before getting to know Houston. It was also good to see the family finally process what happened. There is a lot of good emotional fodder for teachers and librarians who like heartprint books, but this does not stint on the details that young readers prefer; interpersonal conflict with snotty fellow students, social life, and classes on really intriguing scientific topics. Lackey has a note that her brother-in-law lives with cerebral palsy, and she promised to write him into a book, so the details of what life with CP entails are very well done. There are not too many books featuring children dealing with a sibling's health concerns, and while Sumner's Roll With It has a depiction of a character with less involve CP, that's the only one I've seen lately. 
Weaknesses: While it is a really nice thought to make space accessible to everyone, regardless of their abilities, I'm not sure that will ever happen. I grew up in the 1970s, and thought that even wearing glasses to correct your vision would disqualify you from the space program. Maybe that's not true, but I wondered about George's ADHD and Freya's sensory processing disorder and wondered if those challenges might disqualify even them. I was also a bit surprised that the mother was upset that her father didn't come back from a space mission when circumstances became difficult and this caused the estrangement; I would have thought that the families of astronauts would have had better emergency plans in place. 
What I really think: There are certainly students who are interested in becoming astronauts, and this would be a good companion to nonfiction titles like Massimo's Spaceman, Aldrin's To the Moon and Back or Siegal's To Fly Among the Stars. While there are a lot of science fiction books where children go to space camp and then actually go in to space, this is a great realistic look at what it is like to go to an ACTUAL space camp. Definitely purchasing. 

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