The Gravity of Us by Phil Stamper
Cal is a super successful social media journalist with over half a million followers—but when his pilot father is selected to train as one of the astronauts heading to Mars, he and his family are uprooted from Brooklyn to Houston and thrown into a media circus. But Cal’s family isn’t like the astronauts on the reality TV show that NASA has become. His family is messy. And then he meets quiet, mysterious Leon.
I enjoyed this mainly because NASA and the way the book explored human relationships and social media.
The science shit was super fucking cool, and I absolutely loved reading about astronaut training and scientists and dirt and antennas and water and everything else involved with exploring and surviving in long-term space missions.
I also liked how relationships were explored, how everyone has a public and a private face (sometimes more than one of each), and how these interact and play with how people are performing at any given time.
Who is watching? What is their motive? Why are we here? What is our purpose?
These are questions that are always being asked by Cal—except, of course, when this arrogant little shit inexplicably decides to trust rando people for reasons.
Fuck I hated Cal.
He was a shallow, self-absorbed little shit who did exactly what StarWatch (it’s been a minute so I think that’s what the reality tv place was called) did and yet tried to justify his actions against himself. Granted, he’s still a kid, but that’s doesn’t entirely excuse his actions. He minimized Leon’s hurt to further his own gains, and continually turned Leon’s very real mental health worries towards his own concerns. And he diminished his best friend’s pain and constantly turned the attention and spotlight back to himself—and when he didn’t he still martyred himself by saying that he was a journalist and did the interviewing not the answering.
Okay, Cal does grow up a little in the end.
Kid’s a turd.
So why the four stars?
Again—~space~ and also the science, and because of the human relationships portrayed in this book, and how people are manipulated and used and pressured to behave certain ways to project a certain Image.
Unlike a lot of YA books where the protagonist turns away from his parents to reach independence and learn to become an adult, where teen friends and love interests take a bit part of the page time, this is a story where Cal is already fiercely independent. He’s a fixer (good gravy if I had to read him talking about “fixing” something one more fucking time; dude is literally Jane Austen’s Emma)—of his parents, of NASA, of his friends—even if he’s not a very good fixer.
Instead of retaining his fierce independence and moving away from his broken family, Cal becomes closer to them and realizes that his dad is actually pretty cool and his mom is awesome too. There were positive mental health depictions in this book, although the magical rebonding and lack of fighting of his parents when they moved to Houston was a little much and a little too sudden. Cal’s mom had anxiety, and Leon was struggling with his depression.
Speaking of Leon—I wish that he had more page time as a person instead of a love interest or someone to be fixated upon by Cal. Dude was incredible. A gymnast with Olympic potential who had lost his heart for it amidst the social media and his depression, who didn’t need to be fixed or treated like he was broken but also as his own person. I wish that the book had gone into some sort of discussion of how it must have been like for Leon to be an Olympic level gymnast with brown skin, but it was never brought up.
Anywho, I did love that being gay wasn’t a damn issue at all (although Cal mentioned that Houston wasn’t ready for him, it was more his Brooklyn fashion sense than his being gay). Cal and Leon’s relationship was treated as normal and mundane, which was a breath of fresh air.
Overall, despite Cal being a dickwad, I really, really enjoyed this book.
Because NASA and science and Mars. And because it really was cute as hell.
AND BECAUSE CAL’S PARENTS ACTED LIKE ACTUAL MILLENNIAL PARENTS AND NOT THE AUTHOR’S OWN PARENTS.
So. Fucking. Refreshing.
(okay, this might be half the reason why this book has four stars, lol)
And because’s Cal’s dad was a really good pilot. Just because you’re messy doesn’t mean you’re not fantastic or willing to get better. It just means you’re human.
I received this ARC from NetGalley for an honest review
The Gravity of Us released 4 February 2020 from Bloomsbury YA