Reading We Dream of Space during what some have called the “billionaire space race” provided an interesting perspective. My son and I have different opinions about the battle between Jeff Bazos and Richard Branson (and Elon Musk). Even though my son’s very passionate about space travel, it’s hard for me to accept that it’s a good use of money and fossil fuel emissions.
We Dream of Space is a lot like Hello, Universe–the title that won Erin Entrada Kelly a Newbery. It is character-driven, told from multiple points of view, and the story unfolds over a relatively short period of time. In We Dream of Space, however, the point of view characters are not friends but siblings in a very dysfunctional family. And it’s historical fiction, set in 1986 during the Challenger launch.
The Challenger launch is the main event in We Dream of Space . It’s used as a metaphor for the Nelson family, who exist in separate orbits. Each of the siblings have their own coming-of-age but Bird (who dreams of becoming NASA’s first female shuttle commander and looks up to Judith Resnik), is the heart of the novel. Her journey’s more subtle and well drawn than that of her twin, Fitch (who has anger control issues) and older brother, Cash (who isn’t good at anything).
Like Hello, Universe, things are not neatly tied up at the end of We Dream of Space. The siblings have a tender moment in the final chapter where they eat dinner together outside but the parents aren’t involved. There’s no quick resolution to the rift between Mr. and Mrs. Nelson, which cuts deep and affects the family in many ways. Bird doesn’t get over the Challenger disaster but with the help of her brothers it does appear as if she will be able to move on and pursue her dreams.
We Dream of Space is well-written and Kelly uses her skill in character development to full capacity. I hated Mr. Nelson almost as much as I loved Ms. Salonga–the teacher who’s as devastated by the Challenger disaster as Bird. I appreciated the classroom discussions about the pros and cons of space exploration. The book concludes with Bird’s idea that “The universe is waiting. Even though I’m just a tiny grain of sand, it’s waiting for me.”
One thing that struck me is how much the world (and the reasons for going to space–or not) has changed since 1986. I loved all the references to arcade games, books and music because Bird, Fitch and Cash are close to the same age I was in 1986. Middle grade readers today may not feel the same. But I think this book provides a great jumping off point for further discussion on the benefits and drawbacks of modern-day space exploration. It also includes back matter with resources and additional information on the Challenger disaster.