Planet Earth is Blue by Nicole Panteleakos

Planet Earth is Blue

Nicole Panteleakos, Author

Wendy Lamb Books, Fiction, May 14, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Pages: 240

Themes: Sisters, Autism, Loss, Foster families, Astronomy, Challenger space shuttle, Accidents

Opening: Bridget was gone. And Nova was broken.

Synopsis:

Twelve-year-old Nova is eagerly awaiting the launch of the space shuttle Challenger. Nova and her big sister, Bridget, love astronomy, and they planned to watch the launch together. But Bridget has run away, and now Nova is in another new foster home.

Nova is autistic. Speaking is hard for her. Teachers and foster families have always believed that she isn’t as smart as other kids. They don’t realize that she can read, count, and understand conversations. If they listened more intently, they’d realize that she can speak. She really wants to read the Bridge to Terebithia and A Wrinkle in Time, but teachers keep reading her picture books. She’s fallen through the cracks. Only Bridget knows how very wrong they are. But now, as the liftoff draws closer, others begin to see how intelligent Nova is. And every day, she’s counting down to the launch of the first teacher into space, and to the moment when she’ll see Bridget again. Will Bridget keep her promise to Nova?

What I like about this book:

Nicole Panteleakos’s debut novel is a sensitive, captivating and heartbreaking tale that begins 10 days before the fateful launch of the Challenger Space Shuttle in 1986. Nova has two reasons to be excited about the launch — her love of space travel and her big sister’s promise to return to watch the event with her.

Panteleakos realistically portrays Nova’s challenges — based on her own experiences of being on the spectrum — while always emphasizing her strengths. Nova is a resilient, imaginative and intelligent protagonist, who is non-verbal. Unfortunately Nova’s social worker and teachers underestimate her abilities and label her “mentally retarded.” They fail her. Only her older sister, Bridget, patiently works with Nova, knows how to communicate with her, and sees her abilities. She calls Nova a “thinker not a talker.” But Bridget is gone and Nova is alone.

Through a series of letters written by Nova to her sister in the story, readers experience the world through Nova’s inner voice — including her emotions, frustrations, anger, fears and imagination. The letters are a window into Nova’s desire for a “forever home”and her fear of disappointment if she becomes too attached. And readers will see the many important breakthroughs for Nova as she learns to trust and connect with her loving foster family — the 11th family in seven years.

Readers will learn about astronomy, space travel, the history of the space program, the first teacher chosen to go into space, Christa McAuliffe, and the Challenger Program, which “taught kids anyone could have a dream.” They will also learn what it’s like to be autistic in the mid-80s, and the foster home system. There is so much to love about this book — the setting, the characters, and the plot. And there is a huge twist at the end, that even blindsided me.  Make sure you check out the interesting Author’s Note at the end of the book, because there is important information about the Challenger launch, the author’s experiences with Asperger’s, and the history of autism over the past century.

Nicole Panteleakos is a middle-grade author, playwright, and Ravenclaw whose plays have been performed at numerous theaters and schools in Connecticut and New York City. She earned her BA in Theatre Scriptwriting from Eastern Connecticut State University and is currently working toward her MFA in Children’s Literature at Hollins University. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, and has three awesome godchildren, two quirky cats, and at least one Broadway song stuck in her head at all times. Planet Earth Is Blue is her debut novel. Visit Nicole at her website.

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*Reviewed from a library copy.