Dare Mighty Things
Seventeen-year-old Cassandra Gupta’s entire life has been leading up to this—the opportunity to travel to space. But to secure a spot on this classified mission, she must first compete against the best and brightest people on the planet. People who are as determined as she to win a place on a journey to the farthest reaches of the universe.
Cassie is ready for the toll that the competition will take; the rigorous mental and physical tests designed to push her to the brink of her endurance. But nothing could have prepared her for the bonds she would form with the very people she hopes to beat. Or that with each passing day it would be more and more difficult to ignore the feeling that the true objective of the mission is being kept from her.
As the days until the launch tick down and the stakes rise higher than ever before, only one thing is clear to Cassie: she’ll never back down . . . even if it costs her everything.
Told in first-person past-tense from a single point of view, Dare Mighty Things is a solid example of a YA/NA crossover. Cassie is 17 at the very beginning when she’s selected for a highly competitive secret NASA project. The story transitions almost immediately to her being 18—making her barely old enough to qualify, and the youngest to enter. The rest of her competitors (i.e. our side characters) range from 19-25.
When I first read the blurb, I wasn’t expecting I’d be getting into a near-future speculative fiction piece. I was actually pleasantly surprised at that. Although as it turned out, easily 90% of the book felt very current-day--if one overlooks the background fertility crisis and accepted normalcy of designer babies. (Note: The fertility problem isn’t really explained, and the MC’s genetic engineering doesn’t actually end up bearing much if any significance to the plot.) So, if anyone’s worried about being overwhelmed by futuristic worldbuilding, don’t be! The STEM-centered material is well researched without info-dumping.
The vast majority of the book centered around testing—lots of testing—while candidates are gradually paired down as they meet or fail a wide range of unspecified standards. To some extent, the eliminations make sense. (i.e. People showing less desirable or uncooperative behavioral patterns tend to be sent home.) But often decisions on who ‘wins’ a particular challenge is made on more nebulous, unexplained grounds. This point of contention ends up being the primary source of tension. To this reader, the process felt a bit drawn out. Ultimately there are only two who will be chosen—a primary and an alternate. And Cassie is single-mindedly driven to be primary.
That brings me to Cassie’s character. She begins as a friendless, highly ambitious overachiever—a big fish in a little pond—whose only real desire is to go into space. She’s half-Indian American, which is woven quite seamlessly into the story with small cultural elements and even a bit of religion toward the end. She does show growth, being pushed out of her anti-social competitiveness into the concepts of friendship and even (sort of) romance. At one point a character even confronts her deficit in empathy and successfully brings about her self-reevaluation—which was great to see.
Emilio was easily the most endearing character, and somewhat made up for how difficult it often was to relate to Cassie.
While this is YA/NA, the content was largely mild. At one point, there was a seemingly needless discussion about sexuality that felt clunkily shoe-horned in. (My objection there is in regard to the awkward execution, not the content.) It left me suspicious and concerned about the potentially predatorial intentions of the notably older inciting character. But fortunately, that never amounted to anything sinister. (i.e. no triggers warning called for.)
The book takes a hard left into the more clearly sci-fi realm so close to the end, readers will already have the sense that this is more of a prequel to a larger story or extended series. Pretty cliff-hangery on the ending.
Fast-paced and fun!
Dare Mighty Things is an extraordinary debut that features an Indian-American asexual protagonist in the fight of her life for the slim opportunity to go to space. Heather Kaczynski’s novel is a thrilling tale of ambition, power and deadly secrets that will change the course of human history.
Dare Mighty Things was chock full of suspense and my eyes were glued to the page, frantically reading, determined to find out just what the mission was exactly about. I love stories about space and add to that a classified mission, military secrets, and a chance to travel the universe? Um, sign me up!
Kaczynski’s writing was a little elementary, but it is very easy to get swept up into the story and assimilate to her writing style. I actually believe that her straightforward writing perfectly matched the tone of the novel as the book deals with scientific fact and theories (that I assume are correct). Nevertheless, I was impressed by Kaczynski’s inclusion of these fascinating astronomical (?) theories. (Clearly, I don’t understand anything about science.)
The plot was fast paced and didn’t let up for a second. I was so intrigued by what Kaczynski has created here, and I felt as though a plot twist was coming the entire time I was reading this book. It takes skill to sustain that fear and worry in a reader, especially over the course of 300 pages. I can’t wait to read the sequel now.
I thought Cassie, the protagonist, was just amazing and such a wonderful role model. She is incredibly ambitious and will stop at nothing to secure a spot in this prestigious trip, and I’m so thankful that a character like Cassie even exists. So often, girls in YA don’t focus on the same things Cassie does: a future, a career, the chance of a lifetime. I don’t mean to bag other YA girls because many of them are badass, but so many of them also stem from fantasy books. When I think of contemporary YA girls, most of them focus on the romance aspect of their lives, and that is totally their prerogative; I just want to see a few more teen girls focus on themselves too. You don’t read many books with girls like Cassie – girls who work extremely hard to make something of themselves – and I desperately want more.
Cassie is also asexual – or at the very least relates quite strongly to asexuality – and I absolutely love that different identities are taking YA by storm. Straight white characters are no longer the norm and Kaczynski understands this. Almost all of the secondary characters are POC, including Cassie, which was fantastic to see. Cassie’s friends, Emilio and Mitsuko, were great characters – they act like Cassie’s older brother and sister and try to make Cassie feel welcome, while also reminding her of the benefits of friendship. Cassie, who has never had a friend in her life, is a little awkward, but she emerges from her shell with the help of her two friends.
Dare Mighty Things was one of the most fascinating YA books I’ve read this year. The plot was complex but engaging, the characters all geniuses but heartfelt, and the writing straightforward but works to move the plot along. Also … that ending?!?! Holy crap, I need the next book ASAP!