clues to the universe – christina li | review (i needed kleenex.)

Clues to the Universe by Christina Li


Standalone
Published January 12th 2021 by Quill Tree Books
Age Range: Middle Grade
Genre: Historical Fiction
Representation: Chinese-American MC, Chinese SC, Iranian SC

Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Synopsis:

The only thing Rosalind Ling Geraghty loves more than watching NASA launches with her dad is building rockets with him. When he dies unexpectedly, all Ro has left of him is an unfinished model rocket they had been working on together.

Benjamin Burns doesn’t like science, but he can’t get enough of Spacebound, a popular comic book series. When he finds a sketch that suggests that his dad created the comics, he’s thrilled. Too bad his dad walked out years ago, and Benji has no way to contact him.

Though Ro and Benji were only supposed to be science class partners, the pair become unlikely friends: Benji helps Ro finish her rocket, and Ro figures out a way to reunite Benji and his dad. But Benji hesitates, which infuriates Ro. Doesn’t he realize how much Ro wishes she could be in his place?

As the two face bullying, grief, and their own differences, Benji and Ro must try to piece together clues to some of the biggest questions in the universe.


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trigger and content warnings:

Clues to the Universe was a touching story about loss and grief. I tried to not cry while reading certain scenes but never succeeded in stopping my tears. It broke me down yet lifted my spirits as Benji and Ro’s stories continued on. Plots revolving around a loss of a parent or a loved one always hit me the hardest since it highly reflects a personal fear of mine.

Ro’s coping mechanism of building the rocket was heart-wrenching because it contained so many happy memories she had with her father. To memorialize her father, Ro is determined to complete the unfinished rocket and launch it. For Benji, the missing piece in his life had always been his father. Without any news from him and his mother’s reluctance to talk just made Benji even more curious. The buildup of this friendship was adorable and heartwarming. Together, Ro and Benji are attempting to establish a connection with their own father while navigating their differences and bullying in school.

Because here’s the thing about the universe: sometimes it doesn’t tell you all its secrets at once. Sometimes you have to spend years, decades, to answer a question you have. Sometimes you have to travel to the deepest of jungles or to the edges of space to figure things out. And sometimes you don’t figure things out, but get one step closer.

Having a close relationship with her father meant that losing him shattered her entire world. They often daydream and wonder about the beauty of the universe together. The process of building the unfinished rocket demonstrated how amazing Ro’s mind and passion are. Splendidly organized and having a brilliant scientific and mathematical mind, Ro slowly built her rocket.

Where Ro is great at calculations and science, Benji is creative. He was always doodling in class instead of listening to the teacher. Inevitably, he’s drawn towards a comic series called Spacebound which he’s adamant was created by his father who had been absent in his life for years. As he finds clues to his father’s whereabouts, Benji toys with the idea of visiting him.

The two friends cared so much about one another. Ro recognized that Benji’s dad is a forbidden topic in his household and that his relationship with his mother is unlike hers with her own. Similarly, Benji could empathize with the void that was left by Ro’s father who would no longer be back, and how important the rocket launch has to be perfect for Ro.

Christina Li’s exploration of grief was raw yet tender. Moments where the pain was overwhelming and consuming, there were scenes that portrayed hope and acceptance. Also, Christina Li touched on school bullying and racism experienced by Ro, who is half-Chinese. For awhile Benji had kept quiet on his ex-best friend’s bullying ways. It showed how pranks can cause g reat devastation and hurtful consequences.

What an absolutely gut-wrenching yet hopeful story with themes of grief and family. Christina Li’s debut novel set in the 1980s completely blew my mind. I’m looking forward to her next book! If you haven’t read Clues to the Universe, I highly recommend. Also, remember to prepare some tissues and ice cream.

But scientists are also detectives who go on missions that don’t work. Who climb to the edges of jungles that yield nothing. Who hunch over a microscope looking at things that don’t make sense. Who stare at the universe and recalculate the entire system of gravity and space and time until everything finally matches up. Sometimes, science means looking at the cards ten times before you finally catch the trick. it means failing, and trying, and failing again, all in hopes of making things better the next time around.

let’s chat:
how excited are you about reading clues to the universe? did you cry? i 100% did.

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