Karen Y, Librarian
E ARC provided by Netgalley Nova is severely autistic and verbally unintelligible, although she can manage simple things like "yes", "no", and some names. She and her older sister Bridget have been in the foster care system for a number of years because their mother was mentally ill and could not care for them. Bridget understood Nova, and told everyone that her sister was "a thinker, not a talker". The two were very interested in the upcoming Challenger space launch in 1986, and although they are currently separated (Bridget is almost 18), Nova is sure that her sister will return. Nova's current foster family is very understanding and supportive, and Nova is starting to feel at home there. Her foster mother and father don't believe the former school records that indicate that Nova is severely retarded (the term used at the time) and basically unteachable, and are looking forward to her testing results in her new school. Nova does understand the world around her, and writes letters to her sister that tell the reader much about what she is thinking, even though another student looks at the letter and indicates that while some words are recognizable, it looks largely like scribble. Nova does well in her new school and makes some friends, and her home life is definitely an improvement, since the family (including a college aged daughter) understand that her "odd noises" are sometimes laughter, that her favorite bear has a name, and that she can understand requests to modify her behavior and comply with them. When her class at school watches the Challenger lift off and are faced with the horrible disaster, Nova is understandably upset, and also comes to terms with the real reason that Bridget has not returned for the launch. Strengths: While this is not a true #ownvoices book, the author experienced sensory processing disorders as a child, which added a layer of verisimilitude to the things like tags in clothing and noises that irritated Nova. It's written with a nice balance of Nova's own thoughts, and her experiences through the lenses of others. The historical setting of the Challenger disaster is something for which I have been looking for some time. While there are many sad things about this book, it is generally upbeat, and the portrayal of a successful foster care family is something that is more and more needed in middle grade literature. Weaknesses: The extra level of sad at the end, concerning Bridget, was unnecessary and unexpected, but not in a good way. What I really think: I will probably purchase this because it involves a character on the autism spectrum, foster care, and an interesting historical setting, but it strikes me as the sort of book that teachers recommend to students rather than the sort they request from me. This is an ongoing dichotomy that I just don't understand, but which probably exists because tweens are not the ones who purchase books, their parents, teachers, and librarians do. If we asked tweens what they wanted and published accordingly, all that would hit the market would be humorous sports-oriented graphic novel murder mysteries. Surely, there is a happier medium!