Summary: We Dream of Space
In We Dream of Space, siblings Cash, Fitch, and Bird move through the daily trials of pre-teen life in the 1980’s.
Fitch and Bird are twins who are now in the same grade as their older brother, Cash — because Cash was held back in the seventh grade. Bird is a space aficionado and dreams of being an astronaut. Fitch has anger issues and hates that he’s getting crushed on by a girl he doesn’t like — and whom his best friends consider unattractive. Cash feels lost and cannot seem to find his place anywhere. It doesn’t help that the situation at home is tense, with parents who are constantly bickering and a family that cannot seem to make time to talk as a unit or nurture their children.
All three siblings share a science teacher, Ms. Salonga, who is a failed applicant to the Teacher in Space program. Nonetheless, she builds lessons around the Challenger launch, with Bird becoming the most invested. Bird is eagerly anticipating the Challenger launch and is a huge fan of Judith Resnik — the Challenger’s Mission Specialist. She even has internal conversations with her about her dreams and insecurities. This novel follows the siblings until the ill-fated launch day which changes their relationship forever.
We Dream of Space is a novel about space (I’m not a big space fan, to be frank). Yet, it has a lot of heart. I loved this book because of the sensitive, but realistic portrayal of this family and the ways every member is hurting. Bird is trying so hard to get the family to eat together, to share her love of space with everyone, and to find a place in class or maybe just one real friend? Mrs. Thomas, the kids’ mom is frustrated because she wants her husband to help out more at home since they both work — but it’s 1986, and women working outside the home is far from normal.
Speaking of the 80’s, this book captures the essence of the times while keeping the story remarkably accessible for those who prefer contemporary fiction — much like Shaunta Grimes’ Center of Gravity.
This novel also highlights a passionate, enthusiastic teacher, reminiscent of Ms. Bixby in Ms. Bixby’s Last Day. I love stories that show how much power a good teacher can wield over her students and how much she can make them feel heard and seen, even when life at home isn’t great. Fitch also faces a situation that boys in middle-school today face and there’s a lot to learn from him about handling anger and taking responsibility for our actions. And finally, the relationship between Bird and Cash is so heartwarming and it reminds me that even siblings need to build friendships with each other.
I listened to the audio of this book (which I enjoyed), but I hear the hard copy features illustrations, so if that matters a lot to you, you might want to snag that instead.
Overall: We Dream of Space
We Dream of Space is the first book I’ve read by Erin Entrada Kelly, and I’m ready to read more of her work. This character-driven slice-of-life novel shows how different families can be, addresses the struggles of navigating sibling relationships, and highlights what difference an enthusiastic teacher can make. More importantly, it is an ode to the Challenger Shuttle Disaster of 1986 and middle-grade historical fiction like this can teach not just history, but also a lot of empathy.
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Have you read We Dream of Space or any other books by Erin Entrada Kelly? What are your favorite middle-grade historical fiction books? I’d love to know.