Cosmic, by Frank Cottrell Boyce (HarperCollins, 2010 in the US, 2008 in the UK, middle grade, 320 pages), begins thus:
"Mom, Dad--if you're listening---you know I said I was going to the South Lakeland Outdoor Activity Center with the school?"
To be completely honest, I'm not exactly in the Lake District.
To be completely honest, I'm more sort of in space." (page 1)
And things up in space have gone rather wrong.
Liam, the narrator, is very tall for a eleven-year old, and he's started shaving already. This leads to unpleasantness at school, where he is mocked more than a little, but it is not without advantages. He's able, for instance, to pass as an adult and go on any amusement park ride he wants to. And he's able to pass as a Dad, and win, for himself and his "daughter," the chance to go on the trip that promises the ride of a lifetime, open only to four dads, and four kids.
It takes some convincing to get his "daughter" Florida, a celebrity-obsessed girl his own age, to agree to come with him, but at last she does, and they are whisked off to China by private jet. There they find waiting for them an actual rocket ship, waiting to blast off. Much to Liam's dismay, only the kids are going to actually go into space. But the director of the program agrees to let a dad accompany them, and during the days of training that follow, Liam has to prove that he's the best dad there is.
Out in space, he's going to have to prove it all over again, and bring the kids safely home.
It's a lot for an eleven year old boy to handle, and Liam, even though he's so big, is still a kid--enthusiastic, anxious, and caring. The other three sets of kids and dads, although their characters are somewhat exaggerated (success-driven pair, money-driven pair, and intellectual accomplishment-driven pair), provide an amusing and poignant contrast to Liam's efforts to be a "good dad" to his "daughter"/friend, Florida. Even with the help of his handy reference book, "Talk to Your Teen," which he nicked from his dad (quotes from this are included, and made me chuckle), it's hard for Liam (who's not even a teen yet himself) to figure out his new role.
Cosmic is one of only four books so far this year to have received six starred reviews from the major publishing journals; its stars are very well deserved. Both an exciting adventure, and a powerful character-driven story, this is one of the more memorable books I've read this year. It's been nominated for this year's Cybils Awards in the middle grade science fiction/fantasy category, and justifiably so, given that the journey into space, although technically possible, is so unlikely as to be science fictional (the UK cover, shown at right, emphasizes this sci fi-ness). But those who normally eschew space travel books shouldn't let that bias them against this book. They should just gloss over that, and let themselves enjoy this big-hearted story.
(Because I am always looking for kids of color in sci fi/fantasy--two of the other kids are Samson Two Toure from Sierra Leone, and Hasan Xanadu from Bosnia (who I'm assuming is a Bosniak); they get considerable page time, but not enough for me to add this to my list of multicultural sci fi/fantasy).