11-year-old Alex Petroski loves space and rockets, his mom, his brother, and his dog Carl Sagan—named for his hero, the real-life astronomer. All he wants is to launch his golden iPod into space the way Carl Sagan (the man, not the dog) launched his Golden Record on the Voyager spacecraft in 1977. From Colorado to New Mexico, Las Vegas to L.A., Alex records a journey on his iPod to show other lifeforms what life on earth, his earth, is like. But his destination keeps changing. And the funny, lost, remarkable people he meets along the way can only partially prepare him for the secrets he’ll uncover—from the truth about his long-dead dad to the fact that, for a kid with a troubled mom and a mostly not-around brother, he has way more family than he ever knew. Jack Cheng’s debut is full of joy, optimism, determination, and unbelievable heart. To read the first page is to fall in love with Alex and his view of our big, beautiful, complicated world. To read the last is to know he and his story will stay with you a long, long time.
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It is impossible to resist Alex’s earnest and relentless desire to understand, his charming sense of humor, and his unbridled commitment to those he loves. In writing Alex’s character, Cheng could so easily have crossed over into the realm of either the saccharine or the obnoxious, but he avoids both deftly, and ultimately, it is Alex’s unique, wise, and hilarious voice that has stayed with me. This is appropriate since the book is written as a series of voice recordings on Alex’s golden iPod, a move which allows Cheng to stay closely within Alex’s perspective most of the time, but also introduces us to the perspective of Alex’s fellow-voyagers, each of whom is, in their own way, also pursuing truth and finding family.
The sign of a good novel is that when you finish it, you realize you are both more interested in the world and emotionally richer than you were before you started it. The sign of a great novel is that you feel this way from page one.
See You in the Cosmos is a great novel.