Book Review – ‘The Gravity of Us’ by Phil Stamper

The countdown to first love and finding your voice.

Genre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance, LGBT

No. of pages: 314

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.

This book was set out to be a sure-fire hit for me – vlogging and journalism; diversity rep with POC, sexual orientation, and mental illness; general nerdiness around space travel and the race to colonise Mars; all wrapped up in an angsty teen coming of age bow… The concept of ‘The Gravity of Us’ had me from the first line of the blurb.

The Gravity of Us’ was a read of mixed feelings for me. Our protagonist, Cal, while rich with journalistic integrity, a passion for his home town Brooklyn, and commitment to best friend Deb, came across a little flat and obnoxious. I had difficulty in relating to him on an emotional level. I admired his ethics and drive for perfection and a career, but there wasn’t enough vulnerability for me to truly empathise with him. Plus he was always justifying himself in the narrative, and it comes off as, well, shallow.

I also didn’t quite blend with Phil Stamper’s writing style. It was sparse in areas where we had a chance to jump into deep emotion of a character, and the romance was all repeated phrases of a more physical reaction. I didn’t feel any deep connection growing between Cal and his love interest Leon. The romance fell real flat for me. Maybe it had something to do with Leon’s struggle with depression and anxiety, but I have read other novels where this struggle can bring the reader closer to the character, but in this case it isolated me to the point that I felt I didn’t really know Leon.

Plot wise ‘The Gravity of Us’ is fantastic. Stamper uses the first person narrative expertly to hide motives from the reader, and reveals plot points slowly throughout the novel, twisting this way and that. With interspersed chapters of Shooting Stars episodes (The NASA reality show around the astronauts getting ready for a Mars venture) each account reveals something for the plot, driving it forward. Because of these well placed developments throughout the story the pacing is perfect. Despite some of the issues I had with the characters and writing style, I was never bored.

We do see character development from all the cast, and it was sweet to follow Cal’s growing awareness for the wider world (despite abovementioned obnoxiousness) and I think if I had been able to make a stronger emotional connection to him and the other characters, I would have adored ‘The Gravity of Us.’

The plot is mostly predictable from the outset – I won’t mention them here and spoil the story for those of you yet to read ‘The Gravity of Us,’ but everything I guessed in the first twenty or so pages came to pass. There was only one twist I did not see coming, and quite frankly, is a redeeming feature of this novel.

There is some language use and underage drinking, talk of depression and running away if any of those are triggers for you, but we never get into any frank discussions for any of these topics. Neither do we touch on sexual intimacy when its clear Cal and Leon are heading in that direction… all the ‘hard’ topics are glazed over. Which is a pity, with Cal’s journalistic voice and love for fact and practicality we could have seen some relevant discussions on topics that affect all teens (and help add complexity to the characters.)

I want to say there was meant to be humour in ‘The Gravity of Us,’ but it comes across as snarky (almost bitchy) so none of the comedic tone landed with me.

All in all ‘The Gravity of Us’ did not meet my expectations and turned out to be a pretty average read. Cute, moralistic, and missed a lot of opportunity to find a real voice.

Overall feeling: Good, but not great.

© Casey Carlisle 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – The Martian by Any Weir

Step aside MacGuyver, we have a new hero… and a new planet to conquer!

The Martian Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Science Fiction

No. of pages: 369

From Goodreads:

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there. After a dust storm nearly kills him & forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded & completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—& even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive. Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first. But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—& a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

Page border by Casey Carlisle

I’d seen some high ratings for this title, and many of my friends were raving about it, so I grabbed a copy and read it over the weekend with no idea what the story was about other than an astronaut gets left behind on Mars. Plus with a movie due to be released, I wanted to get the book under my belt before ‘The Martian’ hit the cinemas.

The Martian Book Review Pic 05 by Casey CarlisleHoly crap! This book took be on an unexpected ride. Although written in a more serious tone, with science and technical facts intertwined with the plot, Mark Watney, our intrepid astronaut has a dry humour that had me cheering and laughing out loud. This book is a bit like nerd porn – Watney survives only because of his knowledge and being able to MacGuyver contraptions to increase his odds of survival. Truly impressive.

After a diet high in YA of recent months, ‘The Martian’ was a true delight – a welcome change in style and subject matter.

Mark is a true testament to keeping your head on straight in the face of adversity. His comedic timing is also on point – and that humours side of him is what keeps him alive just as much as his ingenuity. I loved the scattered facts and maths problems; it reminded me of grade school exams, like if Billy had 10 green apples and Norris had 16 red apples and Helen made apple sauce with half of each of Billy and Norris’ apples, what would it taste like? Yeah I know it makes no sense, and at first that’s what it’s like when we see the problems Watney faces. And then he comes up with a solution that totally makes sense. It’s like you’ve got the teachers edition textbook with all the answers in the back of the book.

The Martian Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

Some may find the writing style a bit dry, with switching POV’s between Watney, the crew on the shuttle and those in Earth at NASA – and a lot of technical information. But I’m a big science geek and lurved it! This book has such a heavy realistic feel that it doesn’t feel like you are reading science fiction at all, but rather some historical text book.

The overall plot was predictable – it wouldn’t be a great book without the desirable outcome – but it’s all about the journey! And did that throw me in a tailspin. From one moment to the next I never knew what was going to happen. Especially when Watney’s circumstances are so dire. So, even with a witty but dry narrative, the pacing is anything but slow. I spent the weekend devouring this book whenever I had a spare moment. I’m sure it I hadn’t been so busy I would have plonked myself on the couch and not gotten up until I’d finished.

The Martian Book Review Pic 03 by Casey CarlisleI also listened to the audiobook on a trip to New South Wales because I enjoyed the novel so much, and have to say it was outstanding. The narrator did a bang up job, and I’d highly recommend purchasing the audiobook, or novel. Let’s hope the movie blows me away just as much. I’m already excited knowing Mat Damon and Kristen Wiig are in the cast.

If you have any fascination on landing on the moon or mars or space travel – this is one for you! ‘The Martian’ is definitely in my top five reads for 2015.

Overall feeling: Amazeballs!

The Martian Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

The Martian Book Review Pic 06 by Casey Carlisle

Critique Casey by Casey Carlisle

© Casey Carlisle 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.