Summary: Clues to the Universe
Clues to the Universe follows two kids, Ro and Benji. In this debut middle grade book told from two points of view, Ro and Benji become lab partners and form a pact to help each other achieve their goals. For Ro, that’s building the rocket she and her dad always meant to build before he died a year ago. And for Benji, it’s not getting a failing grade in science by tacking on to Ro’s science project. But when Benji discovers that a popular comic artist is his estranged father, Ro insists on helping Benji reunite with his father.
I loved Ro and Benji so much! These two kids fill a hole in each other’s lives and the mutual help they give each other will make your heart swell throughout the book. This is also one of those books with STEM connections that isn’t too “STEM-y.” Ro is obsessed with building the rocket because of the connection with her dad, but because the book switches perspectives, we also learn of Benji’s issues. His parents are divorced, his father is now estranged and apparently a famous comic artist, while his older brother is working after school jobs and hunting for scholarships just to attend college.
Li is a debut author, but this book is so well done, I can’t wait to read whatever she writes next. Like many books where kids go in search of parents (see: The Lonely Heart of Maybelle Lane), this book has a lot of heart and adventure. Another major part of this story is the bullying that both Ro and Benji face for most of the book, as well as how they handle the experience differently. I also liked that although it’s not the only part of her identity expressed, we also learn that Ro is half-Chinese and we get to experience some Chinese culture and tradition.
Finally, grief is very palpable throughout this story, although there are lots of opportunities for levity as well. Ro’s father was killed by a drunk driver and the wife of a neighbor has also died from cancer. Benji on the other hand feels a deep sense of loss over the time spent away from his father. I loved seeing how the story came together in the end.
Overall: Clues to the Universe
Clues to the Universe is a heartfelt middle grade debut about a sweet, unlikely friendship, STEM, the grief of losing a parent, and the joy of finding one. This book also features an art-loving protagonist and a heartwarming sense of community. Finally, the author addresses bullying realistically and sensitively. Overall, an excellent debut I would highly recommend.