What Goes Up, by Katie Kennedy

I very much enjoyed last year's Learning to Swear in America, by Katie Kennedy, so I was very happy last week to plunge into her new book, What Goes Up (Bloomsbury, 2017).  I find it very easy to grow fond of her characters, and to find their predicaments very engrossing, and the fact that What Goes Up has a more blatantly sci fi element to it made it all the more interesting.  I don't want to spoil what exact form that sci fi element takes, so I will try to be coy in my reviewing.

The story begins with  a group of ultra-select teens being tested by NASA's Interworlds Agency for some unclear purpose involving preparing for encounters with aliens; the two teens that pass the testing with the higher markers will be retained for said purpose.  There was the standard math and physics part to the testing, which I would fail, (though in the story there were about an equal number of girls, so positive re-enforcement for girls in STEM) but  NASA also wanted to see how well they could think outside the box, and how they'd react in conditions of life threatening danger, which required an element of excitement, as it were....(I would probably fail this part too.  Sigh.  The ability to improvise bad puns is not valued by NASA).

We are given two teens to root for right off the bat--Rosa Hayashi and Eddie Toivonen.  Rosa has basically been raised to take this test, Eddie has had a struggle.  His dad isn't a pre-eminent scientist like Rosa's; instead, he's in jail.   His engineer grandmother who brought him up was able to teach him lots, and they happily launched rockets together in her backyard, but coming to NASA for the testing wasn't an easy thing for him; the shadow of his abusive father weighs heavily on him. (I am glad we unexpectedly get to meet Eddie's grandma--she is great!)

So there are the kids, and the tests, and it is fun reading about the training and the group dynamics and the efforts of their instructor Reg to prepare the teens for the question mark of possible alien encounter.  There are poignant bits, and amusing bits, and tense bits, and then the sci fi part starts! All that testing--very useful.  All the lessons they'd just had about trusting themselves--also unexpectedly, more literally than you might imagine, useful! The bonds of friendship formed between Rosa, Eddie, and the third boy who's their alternate--essential.  The chances of saving Earth--slim.

So in any event, the sci fi part required a big suspension of disbelief, and really can't be poked at too hard or the belief crumbles, and if I read the book correctly there is a big plot thread left hanging (perhaps someone who has read the book can enlighten me--what happens to the guys who arrived first? did they ever leave again?), but I enjoyed it all lots and lots.  It is funny and friendly and a wild ride.  I'll be re-reading it, which in this day and age of book buildup in the home is the best compliment I can give a book.

There's diversity here--Rosa is of  French and Japanese descent, and Reg is black.  Which makes Rosa the first Japanese/French American fictional teen in space, to the best of my knowledge....

Kirkus agrees with me, except in the matter of how much of the plot to give away.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


  1. Ha! The first Japanese/French American fictional teen in space. That's funny. Sounds like an interesting read. Thanks for the review.

  2. That was my question, too--here you have 4 individuals who were planning to destroy 7 billion people and she never tells us what happened to them? Almost identical copies of 4 existing people are a real problem, even if you lock them up. I also question how the evil Dad gets into a secure NASA reception at the end. He should have been addressed off-campus, as it were. Yet, even with the questions at the end, a teriffic book.


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