Title: The Gravity of Us
Author: Phil Stamper
Date published: February 4, 2020
As a successful social media journalist with half a million followers, seventeen-year-old Cal is used to sharing his life online. But when his pilot father is selected for a highly publicized NASA mission to Mars, Cal and his family relocate from Brooklyn to Houston and are thrust into a media circus.
Amidst the chaos, Cal meets sensitive and mysterious Leon, another “Astrokid,” and finds himself falling head over heels—fast. As the frenzy around the mission grows, so does their connection. But when secrets about the program are uncovered, Cal must find a way to reveal the truth without hurting the people who have become most important to him.
There are so many things I loved about THE GRAVITY OF US that I felt the need to make a list of them instead of a “traditional” review. Honestly, there is probably nothing I would have changed about this book; it is a bundle of perfection and heart and everything you could want from a YA book. So, without further ado, here are all the things I loved about THE GRAVITY OF US:
- The journalism/social media aspect. I was super enchanted and taken in by Cal’s social media and journalism interest. I love it when an author manages to make me interested in whatever the MC is passionate about and makes me wish I could do the thing they do. Phil Stamper makes Cal’s passion for telling stories that matter to his millions of followers so clear, and I was so intrigued by how Cal told his stories to his audience and really wanted to make a difference in people’s lives. It got even more interesting when Cal and his family went to the NASA base and Cal was banned from social media (but didn’t listen of course) and he started using his platform to help the mission and, tangentially, his father. I so admired how Cal was unwilling to give up his passion but adapted it in a way that helped the NASA mission, which also eventually helped him understand his father’s passion.
- The family relationships. I love a YA book with complex family relationships, and this book had that in spades. It was so heart-wrenching to watch Cal’s parents struggle to support each other as his father went after his dream, and to see how their fighting affected Cal’s relationship with them. Cal’s relationship with his father especially changes, since he starts out blaming his father for completely upending his life.
- The depiction of mental illness. Mental illness isn’t a *huge* part of this book, but Cal’s mother does suffer from anxiety and I thought Stamper handled that aspect of Cal’s family so well. He gave a really accurate depiction of anxiety and how it can affect a person in all the stressful and very public situations Cal’s mother was put in. I also liked how supportive Cal was of her, and how he just took his mother’s anxiety as one part of her and didn’t resent her or feel ashamed of her illness like teen characters in books sometimes do with parents with mental illnesses. Cal was so understanding of her and saw her as a whole person, and I thought his mom’s character as a whole was just really strong and nuanced.
- Cal was very “teen.” Usually when reviewers say a character acts like a teen it’s an insult, but I am definitely not going that route. I think Cal would be very relatable to a lot of teens, because of his voice in the novel and also the social media aspect. I think teens could definitely relate to a lot of other parts of his story as well, including his strained relationship with his parents, moving to a new place, and doggedly following his passion no matter what. I also really liked that Cal definitely had his flaws as well, like not being such a great friend to Deb after he moved. Even though Cal sometimes thinks he’s pretty great, he’s still portrayed as a real person with stuff he needs to work on in himself and I really liked that about this book. He was a whole, three dimensional character who I think would appeal to a lot of YA readers.
- Learning about NASA. Obviously, NASA and space are a big part of this book. I didn’t initially put this book on my TBR because I mistakenly thought the teens went up in space and I do not like space books, but they are on earth the whole time, with a mission to space being the main focus of this book. I found learning about NASA’s history fascinating, and loved the parts where Cal’s father shared his passion for NASA with Cal and Cal got it.
- Cal’s sexuality isn’t strictly defined. At the beginning of the book, Cal mentions that he dated his best friend, Deb, but that their relationship just didn’t fit, and he also has a crush on Leon, one of the other kids at the NASA base. Even though he’s had crushes on boys and girls, his sexuality isn’t strictly labeled or defined in the story. He just likes who he likes and doesn’t seem to worry about defining himself and who he’s attracted to in that way, which I really liked as someone who has had feelings for people of multiple genders.