We Dream of SpaceFeatured
Cash, Fitch, and Bird Thomas are three siblings in seventh grade together in Park, Delaware. In 1986, as the country waits expectantly for the launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger, they each struggle with their own personal anxieties.
Cash, who loves basketball but has a newly broken wrist, is in danger of failing seventh grade for the second time. Fitch spends every afternoon playing Major Havoc at the arcade on Main and wrestles with an explosive temper that he doesn’t understand. And Bird, his twelve-year-old twin, dreams of being NASA’s first female shuttle commander, but feels like she’s disappearing.
The Thomas children exist in their own orbits, circling a tense and unpredictable household, with little in common except an enthusiastic science teacher named Ms. Salonga. As the launch of the Challenger approaches, Ms. Salonga gives her students a project—they are separated into spacecraft crews and must create and complete a mission. When the fated day finally arrives, it changes all of their lives and brings them together in unexpected ways.
Told in three alternating points of view, We Dream of Space is an unforgettable and thematically rich novel for middle grade readers.
We Dream of Space is illustrated throughout by the author.
The Challenger disaster was a big deal, and is frequently covered in the school curriculum. I can't tell you the number of times I have had to recount where I was when this occurred for students who have to interview someone who remembers it! This event is a major component of Planet Earth if Blue, but I haven't seen it elsewhere. This story is reminiscent of the great I Love You, Michael Collins, which is set two decades earlier and is a good choice for readers who want to know what the 1980s were like.
The book is filled with 80s nostalgia that parents will recognize (such as time at arcades and Star Trek/Wars). Ultimately, it is a story of sibling love and shared experience, as things are not always going well at home, and the siblings make their marks in different ways on the family dynamic (for better or worse). These ages are really formative and awkward, which is demonstrated well in the book.
What I loved: I love Bird's dreams of becoming a Shuttle Commander and her observational nature. The diagrams she draws also adds a cool STEM twist in the book. The characters felt really genuine and sympathetic, and they were intriguing to follow. We see their challenges and mistakes, as well as their approach to trying to make them better. There is also some bullying of other children, and this is played out with an ultimate consequence and the feeling of wrongness by one of the siblings.
What left me wanting more: There are a lot of major issues that are presented but not resolved, such as their parents fighting, which frequently boils down to sexism and misogyny (that the mother should do all the cooking and housework, her education was wasted, her value is in homemaking, etc.). These are valid points that are often still at play today, and I wanted more of a demonstration for the kids (in the book and reading in the present) that these are not the rules. Parents could do this through discussion.
There is also a point about interracial relationships being maybe unwelcome from parents, and I would have appreciated a heart-to-heart about these. Bird thinks about asking her parents because she knows this is an important question, but ultimately decides not to. Bird recognizes the differences between her parents and how they have made their family-life vs. one of her new friend's, and this contrast sort of speaks to some of these issues.
Another is the point about the importance of appearance and prettiness, which frequently comes up for Bird. For instance, her mother says her brothers can eat sweets and junk food, but not her; other people say being pretty is not her thing, but smart is (as if they cannot coexist); etc. This is somewhat resolved through the imaginary conversations she has with Judith Resnick. These are points that would all be great to discuss with children outside of the book. This book could be good for raising the discussions, but I would have appreciated more overt discussions of these and resources shown to children who might be reading. They are appropriate to the time period (and even sometimes now too).
Final verdict: Overall, WE DREAM OF SPACE is an enthralling middle grade read about siblings and the pre-adolescent experience.