Review Detail

Kids Fiction 216
1986 Challenger Disaster
Overall rating 
 
4.0
Plot/Characters/Writing Style 
 
4.0
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable) 
 
N/A
Nova is severely autistic and verbally unintelligible, although she can manage simple things like "yes", "no", and some names. She and her older sister Bridget have been in the foster care system for a number of years because their mother was mentally ill and could not care for them. Bridget understood Nova, and told everyone that her sister was "a thinker, not a talker". The two were very interested in the upcoming Challenger space launch in 1986, and although they are currently separated (Bridget is almost 18), Nova is sure that her sister will return. Nova's current foster family is very understanding and supportive, and Nova is starting to feel at home there. Her foster mother and father don't believe the former school records that indicate that Nova is severely retarded (the term used at the time) and basically unteachable, and are looking forward to her testing results in her new school. Nova does understand the world around her, and writes letters to her sister that tell the reader much about what she is thinking, even though another student looks at the letter and indicates that while some words are recognizable, it looks largely like scribble. Nova does well in her new school and makes some friends, and her home life is definitely an improvement, since the family (including a college aged daughter) understand that her "odd noises" are sometimes laughter, that her favorite bear has a name, and that she can understand requests to modify her behavior and comply with them. When her class at school watches the Challenger lift off and are faced with the horrible disaster, Nova is understandably upset, and also comes to terms with the real reason that Bridget has not returned for the launch.
Good Points
While this is not a true #ownvoices book, the author experienced sensory processing disorders as a child, which added a layer of verisimilitude to the things like tags in clothing and noises that irritated Nova. It's written with a nice balance of Nova's own thoughts, and her experiences through the lenses of others in order to fill in gaps of understanding that Nova might have. The historical setting of the Challenger disaster is something for which I have been looking for some time.

This is timely because it involves a character on the autism spectrum and foster care. While there are many sad things about this book, it is generally upbeat, and the portrayal of a successful foster care family is something that is more and more needed in middle grade literature.

There are a number of books that have been published recently that involve children in various stages of the foster care system; Hunt's One for the Murphys(2012) and Sloan's Counting by 7's (2013) seem to have started this resurgence. More recent books include Dilloway's The Summer of a Thousand Pies, Hennessey's Echo Park Castaways, and Lewis' Scarlet Ibis. It's important for young readers to understand that the children in their school have a variety of experiences, and for all readers to see themselves in literature. I know that Ohio has an increasing number of children in the foster care system, so I'm always glad to see books that show experiences my population might have.
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