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The Year We Fell from Space

Narrated by: Stephanie Willing
Length: 5 hrs and 26 mins
4 out of 5 stars (1 rating)

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Summary

The deeply affecting next book from acclaimed author Amy Sarig King.

Liberty Johansen is going to change the way we look at the night sky. Most people see the old constellations, the things they've been told to see. But Liberty sees new patterns, pictures, and possibilities. She's an exception. Some other exceptions: Her dad, who gave her the stars. Who moved out months ago and hasn't talked to her since. Her mom, who's happier since he left, even though everyone thinks she should be sad and lonely. And her sister, who won't go outside their house.

©2019 Text Copyright © 2019 by Amy Sarig King.Audio (P) 2019 Scholastic Inc. All rights reserved. scholastic, scholastic audiobooks, and associated logos are trademarks and/or registered trademarks of Scholastic Inc. (P)2019 Scholastic Inc

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  • Draconis March
  • 29-05-20

Strong theme, but bogged down by politics.

I read the prologue of this book to a 5th grade class I substitute taught in, and immediately decided I had to read the rest of the book. Fortunately I was able to find it on Audible!

The book starts strong, with a very emotional scene setting the premise of Liberty's divorcing parents. However, even at one of the book's strongest points, the red flags were appearing, which continued to taint the rest of the book in a stench that made it hard to enjoy the core of the story.

First the positives. Liberty is a good character, and very realistically-written going-into-middle-school/adolescence girl. Jilly is also generally believable in her behavior, though her development isn’t as much. Dad is also realistic and goes through some compelling development along with Liberty. The story is well-paced, and relatable to many people in the target audience’s age group. The main crux of the story revolves around mental health of adolescents, which to my knowledge hasn’t been explored much at all in fictional media, and makes this an appealing choice.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of problems, many of which stem from distracting, irrelevant political opinions being sprinkled in. Some are revealed in the dialog, such as this wonderful exchange. Finn: “Get your hands off my brother, you feminists!” Liberty. “I don’t think he knows what that word means. How could he, growing up in a house like that?” Patrick: “Men are in charge, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be.” Liberty: “They’re turning out to be just like their father.” There are many more small examples besides this that I won’t mention, but once you start noticing them, they’re very distracting.

Liberty says of her interest in astronomy that she lives in a time where people laugh at the idea of girls like her in space. This book takes place in 2019. I challenge you to find even 10 people who would admit to laughing at that. The only place you'll find more is in made-up stories from an echo chamber.

The biggest problem ideology inflicts on the writing quality is in the 2 adult women in the story. The first is the girls' mom, who I challenge you to find a meaningful flaw with at all. She always knows the answer to problems, is always supportive of people (even offering drinks to Mr. Nolan, the book’s comically simple misogynist), is sporty and active, always knows the right thing to say in any situation, and most important of all, shows no signs of the divorce legitimately hurting her in any way. The only ill-effects it has are how dad inconveniences her, and when she cries upon finding that dad's new girlfriend had moved in with him (this is dad's fault, somehow). And when asked by Liberty why she never got a boyfriend herself, she stated that it “wasn’t her.” The thought had never crossed her mind.

The other woman character, Tiffany, is the one dad cheated on his wife with. Despite being the other half of the pair, all of the maligning of the cheating incident falls squarely on the dad's shoulders. There's a word for people that facilitate cheating in an established partnership: a homewrecker. Tiffany is a homewrecker, and this is never painted as a flaw in her as a person. The only flaws she has are those Liberty saw on a superficial level that are quickly blown away once she talks to Tiffany for the first time as she shows that she's actually super kind to the sisters. She has very little character, but what little she has is all positive traits, with nothing negative of substance.

In any other story, perfect female characters (Mary Sues) would just be chalked up as bad writing, but due to the other ideological elements herein, it's clear that ideology affected the decision to make these 2 women perfect, while bestowing an undue slew of flaws on the dad. Now, let me make clear that dad isn't an unrealistic character by any stretch. He has depression, and it causes him to make decisions that thoroughly ruin his life, and that of his family. He has difficulty dealing with many difficult situations, and can't even functionally express his feelings in healthy ways. But he tries his best, despite himself, to be the dad his girls need, and his positive qualities stop him from becoming a symbol of misandry.

There is a small throwaway line Liberty uses to describe her father and mother’s relationship. While the family is all sat down and the parents are talking about what the divorce is going to look like, dad says about his moving out, “Your mom is making me do this.” Mom throws her hands up in frustration and sits on the couch. Liberty narrates that “dad always leads, and mom follows.” This line is proven to be categorically false within the work, though this contradiction is never addressed. For one, it’s contradicted in that very scene by the fact that dad is the one being forced to move out, while mom gets to stay in the house. Another is that the custody arrangement is completely lopsided: dad gets the girls for one weekend every other week, while mom gets them the rest of the time. That means dad gets the girls only 2 out of every 14 days. (These periods are where most of the important events happen.) When dad asks mom to switch which weekend he gets them once, she firmly, but of course calmly, denies the request; the only reason she gives being that that was what the divorce arrangement mandated. Finally, anytime the two converse, it’s obvious that mom is in charge and in control, while dad is mostly struggling just to keep up. Given the evidence, it could be theorized that dad started cheating because mom denied him agency at every turn, while Tiffany did not. (Not that I believe the author ever would have thought to plan that.)

This book could’ve been fantastic without useless political elements bogging it down. I enjoyed most of the story and the central theme, but it would’ve been far more poignant without useless biases detracting from it.

In summation:
Pros: puts a spotlight on adolescent mental health, a topic that isn’t addressed enough. There are very strong emotional highlights, and some strong and believable character development.
Cons: the author injects her ideology into the work repeatedly, ideology which is out of place within and distracts from the strength of the primary theme. It also hurts the believability of some of the characters.

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