"See You in the Cosmos" Book Review
Author: Jack Cheng
NEW RECORDING 1
It’s been a very long time since I’ve posted a book review. With writing my own book, interning at an agency, and interning for a publisher, I didn’t have the same amount of time that I used to. And when the virus forced us all into quarantine, I lost my motivation to do much at all. But then I read, or rather listened to, See You in The Cosmos by Jack Cheng. It was the first book in a while I was excited to continue each day. Before going into the plot, I want to say right off the bat that I HIGHLY recommend you listen to the audiobook, especially given the format of the novel. It makes for a more realistic experience, and the voice actors are top notch.
11-year-old Alex has learned to be independent, with his brother working in another state, his father having passed away, and his mom often experiencing what Alex calls quiet days. But Alex dreams of becoming a rocket scientist, and his next mission is to launch his rocket into deep space with a golden iPod full of earth sounds on board. His best shot is a rocket competition called SHARF, which is an acronym for Southwest High-Altitude Rocket Festival. Accompanied by his trusty canine companion, Carl Sagan, Alex journeys to the conference in New Mexico, creating recordings for the alien life he hopes will one day find his golden iPod. But, along the way, he confronts frightening losses, long-kept secrets, and new friends as he discovers more about his past.
I didn’t realize just how close I felt to Alex until the book was over, and I was incredibly sad…like I had lost a good friend. I think a big part of this has not only a lot to do with the strong voice of the character but also the fact that the character is speaking to you directly. Even if he thinks I’m an alien with three hearts and one lung, I felt like I knew him and I was somehow a part of his story, of his life. I still miss him. I’m wondering, what is Alex up to today? And it makes me sad that I won’t be able to find out anymore. Maybe being in quarantine somehow makes this worse. Isolation made that fictional connection even more important, and hearing about this world where people eat out together and hug and attend conferences made me feel like an actual alien at times.
As I said, the voice is very young, but the book covers some pretty mature topics and has lines that remind me of something Disney does really well. Disney is brilliant at creating dialogue and scenes with two meanings: one for the pleasure of kids, and one (secretly) for the pleasure of adults, such as this line from Tangled… “The party lasted an entire week, and honestly, I don’t remember most of it.”
Kids’ thoughts: Oh, that forgetful Flynn, haha.
Adults’ thoughts: He got drunk as hell, didn’t he?
So, even though the voice is very young, having more mature characters and subjects makes the book more enjoyable to read as an adult.
The pacing and format of the book creates a unique experience that heightens that enjoyment. In a normal book, we can usually rely on being able to experience moments and emotions as the characters do. However, like a diary format, when a new recording starts, we don’t know yet what the character does or what they have experienced. Our ability to see a moment is completely cut off, even more so than with a diary format. At times, Alex will stop talking to us and a scene will play out in the background where we aren’t entirely sure what is going on. It creates this insane tension, especially when the recording abruptly ends and we’re left wondering is Alex okay? What happened? Is someone hurt? Is everything ruined? My anxiety laughs malevolently at its success and relaxes in a lilac bubble bath as I slowly lose my mind, because I picked to listen to the audiobook and can’t skip ahead. All I can do is wait patiently for Alex to give us the tea in his next recording.
I’d give anything to listen to another one of those recordings right now; to hear whether Carl Sagan’s digestive system has improved. How is Alex doing? Has he finally recorded the sound of a man in love? I want to hear what his day was like. What new acronym does he have for us?
I’d love to see more novels done this way. In a time where readers feel more alone than perhaps they ever have, having someone like Alex to tell you about his incredible adventures is a true solace.
Now, excuse me while I go find a nearby Johnny Rockets to eat at.
END OF RECORDING