We Dream of Space. Erin Entrada Kelly. 2020. 400 pages. [Source: Bought]
First sentence: The pinball machine didn’t steal Fitch Thomas’s quarter. Not really. But when one of the flippers is broken, there’s no point in playing.
Premise/plot: We Dream of Space is a middle grade coming of age novel set in January 1986 starring three siblings: Fitch, Bird, and Cash. The book is told from the perspective of all three siblings. Fitch is struggling with anger issues and feelings of shame. Bird is a big, big dreamer but is haunted by insecurity and anxiety. Cash, well, Cash also struggles with finding his place to belong, finding something he is good at; he struggles with worthlessness. The three siblings have so much in common--so so much--but they also share this a feeling of isolation and alone-ness. They seem unaware that their siblings are also struggling and just barely coping. Another thing all three have in common is their parents who always, always, always, always seems to be arguing, fighting, fussing, bickering, spatting, raging. The Nelson-Thomas home is not comfortable, cozy, safe. It's very much a Jekyl-and-Hyde home. (That's how Bird refers to her home).
The book deals with their lives at home and at school. The three siblings share one teacher--Ms. Salonga--though not all at the same time period. She is a science teacher, I believe, who is dedicating the whole month of January to space and space exploration. Bird, in particular, is thrilled with this focus. And she daydreams conversations with one of the astronauts, Judith Resnik.
It touches on issues of family dysfunction (in particular spousal verbal abuse, and perhaps a bit of neglect), bullying, self-esteem, body image, and friendship. (Not all friends are *good* or *good-for-you* friends. Some relationships are toxic.)
My thoughts: We Dream of Space won't satisfy every reader. It ends roughly around the first week of February 1986. There are no pretty little bows tied neatly. Cash hasn't transformed his grades or made the track team...yet. Fitch hasn't figured out how to make amends and reform his outbursts...yet. Bird hasn't made peace with the tragedy of the Challenger and "gotten over" her funk...yet. The parents' relationship hasn't miraculously improved 1010%. There have been no promises to change or acknowledgement that they are hurting each other and the children. But despite the lack of neatness in the bow-tying department, it stays true to life. Problems never resolve quickly and neatly. Not really.
It also won't satisfying the nit-pickiest of readers who will notice that the teacher talks of the shuttle launching from HOUSTON, TEXAS. (It should be Cape Canaveral, Florida). If that is the biggest issue you have with the book--that could perhaps be fixed before it goes into paperback or reprinting of a hardcover if this one should win awards.
The book offers an emotional roller coaster. The narrative is getting closer and closer and closer and closer to the EXPLOSION which provides its own tension. But that isn't the only tension--far from it. All the relationships in the book are a bit of a mess. This family needs help--an intervention. The home life is toxic and damaging.
For those that have--in the past--lived through this it could potentially be a trigger and hit a little too close to home. For those that have never lived through this, I would love to see this book trigger empathy and compassion. The truth is you never know what may be going on in the lives of your classmates. Teachers, you may not know what is going on in the lives of your students.
For those that are currently living through this--perhaps this book will help you feel not-alone, perhaps it will help you feel SEEN and HEARD.
The three kids--despite being in middle school--desperately needed DAILY TIME with Mister Rogers and His Neighborhood.
- Her mother looked up from her book. If Tomorrow Comes, it was called. “Don’t touch those sugar cereals, Bird. Those are for your brothers. You won’t be skinny forever.” I wonder how many times she’ll say that sentence in 1986, Bird thought.
- The Thomas family was like its own solar system. Planets in orbit. No, not planets. More like meteors or space junk. Floating objects that sometimes bumped or slammed into each other before breaking apart.
- There was a time when the Nelson Thomas family orbited the same sun, but that was in the distant past. They’d drifted apart at some point, but no one knew when or how. One thing was certain, however: the Nelson Thomas siblings always, without fail, went their separate ways as soon as the bell rang.
- Ever since Fitch got to middle school last year, he had the sense that everything was about acting casual no matter what, like nothing in the world mattered and you couldn’t be bothered to care about anything, even though everyone cared about everything.
- Bird knew it was a mistake. She could predict an argument a mile away. Nothing could be done about it, though. Bird didn’t know how to cook, so it’s not like she could prepare a meal for them. Instead she did the next best thing: she ate a turkey sandwich. That way her mom wouldn’t have to worry about including her. She suggested that the others eat sandwiches, too, but they said no, they wanted to wait for something good. So Bird went into her room and waited, too. But not for something good.
- No such rules applied to Mr. and Mrs. Thomas. They were allowed to use all the words. They could even pair some of the words together, like when Mr. Thomas called Mrs. Thomas a “stupid [expletive] cow,” or when she called him a “moronic [expletive] [expletive].” Every ugly word was on the table—especially when they spoke to each other.
- Dani came back with the soda and called for Chekov again. “He’s such a funny cat,” Dani said. “He only likes to come out if he knows the environment is safe.” Bird took a long, deep sip of her Sunkist. “I understand,” she said.
- Sometimes Bird wondered what would happen if she ever dismantled the television. Would she find one of those swinging pendulums inside, the kind hypnotists use to put people to sleep?
© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews