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Publisher: Puffin Books$8.99See You in the Cosmos (Audio Compact Disc - Unabridged)
Publisher: Listening Library (Audio)$35.00
11-year-old Alex Petroski loves space and rockets, his mom, his brother, and his dog Carl Sagan--named for his hero, the real-life astronomer. All he wants is to launch his golden iPod into space the way Carl Sagan (the man, not the dog) launched his Golden Record on the Voyager spacecraft in 1977. From Colorado to New Mexico, Las Vegas to L.A., Alex records a journey on his iPod to show other lifeforms what life on earth, his earth, is like. But his destination keeps changing. And the funny, lost, remarkable people he meets along the way can only partially prepare him for the secrets he'll uncover--from the truth about his long-dead dad to the fact that, for a kid with a troubled mom and a mostly not-around brother, he has way more family than he ever knew. Jack Cheng's debut is full of joy, optimism, determination, and unbelievable heart. To read the first page is to fall in love with Alex and his view of our big, beautiful, complicated world. To read the last is to know he and his story will stay with you a long, long time. "Stellar." --Entertainment Weekly
"Life-embracing." --The Wall Street Journal
"Irresistible." --The Chicago Tribune
"The best I've read in a long, long time." --Holly Goldberg Sloan, author of Counting by 7s
"Riveting, inspiring, and sometimes hilarious." --Kirkus, starred review
"A propulsive stream-of-conscious dive." --Publishers Weekly, starred review
"A gift--a miracle." --Paul Griffin, author When Friendship Followed Me Home
"Full of the real kind of magic." --Ally Condie, author of Matched
"Full of innocence and unwavering optimism." --SLC
"Inspiring." --Time for Kids
"Powerfully affirms our human capacity for grace and love and understanding." --Gary D. Schmidt, author of Okay for Now
- ISBN-13: 9780399186370
- ISBN-10: 0399186379
- Publisher: Dial Books
- Publish Date: February 2017
- Page Count: 320
- Reading Level: Ages 10-14
- Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.5 x 1.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 0.95 pounds
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-12-05
- Reviewer: Staff
Alex Petroski, the idiosyncratic 11-year-old narrator of Chengs poignant and funny first novel, dutifully records his thoughts and adventures into an iPod, so when intelligent beings millions of light-years away find it one day theyll know what Earth was like. The result is a propulsive stream-of-conscious dive into Alexs life as he sets off alone from Colorado with his dog, Carl Sagan (named after Alexs personal hero), to launch the iPod into space at the Southwest High-Altitude Rocket Festival in New Mexico. There, he encounters an eclectic cast of rocket enthusiasts and persuades two new adult friends, one of whom has taken a vow of silence, to take him to Las Vegas to track down his supposedly dead father. The trip continues as Alex meets his half-sister, resolves the mystery about his father, and travels on to Los Angeles to find his older brother. Details about his mother and her quiet days, mentioned throughout, take on increasing importance, especially once Alex returns home. Alexs strong voice drives this compelling personal journey with resonant themes of family, friendship, and resilience. Ages 10up. (Feb.)
Finding our place in the universe
Jack Cheng’s all-time favorite book is The Little Prince, the beloved classic in which a pilot who has crashed in the desert encounters a young interplanetary traveler. So perhaps it’s no coincidence that Cheng’s inventive middle grade debut, See You in the Cosmos, concerns an 11-year-old traveler named Alex Petroski who is making a recording that he hopes extraterrestrials will hear.
Cheng came up with the idea several Thanksgivings ago while hanging out in his younger brother’s room. He spotted a Carl Sagan book that reminded him of the Golden Record that Sagan helped create, containing images and sounds intended to portray life on Earth to extraterrestrials, which was launched aboard two NASA Voyager spacecraft in 1977.
“The next morning I woke up and had this idea for a story about a boy and his dog, and trying to launch a rocket into space,” Cheng recalls, speaking from his home in Detroit. “It immediately started to take on a life of its own.”
His character Alex idolizes Sagan so much that his dog is named after the astronomer. The pair board a train from their Colorado home to travel to a rocket festival in New Mexico, where Alex hopes to launch his own vessel into space. Meanwhile, he’s recording his thoughts on his golden iPod, transcripts of which comprise the novel’s chapters.
Alex is also in search of his father (who died when Alex was 3 but whom he suspects may still be alive), and so he travels in some unexpected directions, ending up in Las Vegas and Los Angeles. One reason that Alex is able to embark on his journey is that his mother has “quiet days” in bed. She’s eventually hospitalized for schizophrenia, an illness that Cheng portrays compassionately without making it a focus.
“That magical surprise of finding a new character or having your characters see something completely different from what you’re expecting—that’s one of the reasons I keep writing.”
Along the way, Alex stumbles upon many discoveries, including a half-sister named Terra, whose existence was equally surprising to the author. “When I started that chapter, the door opens and Terra was there,” says Cheng. “That magical surprise of finding a new character or having your characters see something completely different from what you’re expecting—that’s one of the reasons I keep writing.”
The 33-year-old’s path to becoming a writer has involved its own share of twists and turns. Born in Shanghai, he moved at age 5 to Detroit, where his father was earning a master’s degree in engineering. As a young immigrant, Cheng didn’t speak English and had a different name: Yuan. He remembers picking his English name because he loved playing cards and was familiar with the letter J on the jacks.
As Cheng reminisces about those early days in America, two of the first things he mentions are a dog and rockets—both major features of his novel. For a while his family lived in a mansion-like home whose elderly owner had a golden retriever. Cheng also remembers being mystified by the pictures of toy rockets he saw on certain cereal boxes, and describes trying to build rockets out of the cereal, not understanding that the toys were something to be sent away for.
Cheng loved to draw and later became adept at Photoshop. He majored in communication studies at the University of Michigan, then worked in advertising in New York, first as an art director and later as a copywriter. Eventually he and two partners started their own design studio, building websites and apps for startups and other companies. During this time he started journaling, which evolved into writing an adult novel, These Days, which examines relationships and technology through the lens of a young Midwesterner working in New York. He funded that novel through Kickstarter, an experience that taught Cheng a lot about publishing and also put him in touch with his agent.
“During that process I realized that I loved writing so much more than my day job,” Cheng says, “and that it was something that I would be willing to move back to Michigan and live in my parents’ basement in order to keep doing.” He did move back to his home state but, happily, never had to live in his parents’ basement. During this transition period he also took a Greyhound bus from L.A. to Detroit, commemorating a journey that his father had taken when he first came to the U.S. (a few months before Cheng and his mother arrived).
“That actual bus ride was very uneventful; I just slept most of the way,” Cheng admits. “But I think some of the themes of that trip—trying to get to know family and trying to understand my dad’s experience, and also just being around the Southwest—in hindsight those were huge influences on See You in the Cosmos.”
“There’s always a sense of finding yourself between two worlds.”
However, Cheng wasn’t ready to write a book about Asian-American identity. “Maybe that’s just an aspect of my own life that I wasn’t fully ready to explore,” he concedes, saying he may tackle the issue in future novels. In a nod to Cheng’s immigrant heritage, however, Alex is half Filipino.
“My Chinese heritage is something that I’ve been exploring more of in the past few years,” Cheng continues. “The whole question of figuring out where and what home is—I think that’s a very Asian-American question. I think it’s also very American in general; if we go back enough generations, we’re all immigrant families. There’s always a sense of finding yourself between two worlds. Alex is very much finding himself between this world—his life with his mother—and the world of not really knowing his father.”
Cheng still has one piece of unfinished business concerning See You in the Cosmos. “One thing I’m a little embarrassed about is I have never actually launched a model rocket,” he says. “As research for the book I bought one, but it’s still sitting in my closet. I think that on the day the book comes out, I’m going to try and do a little launch.”