The Gravity of Us by Phil Stamper
Overview: Cal thinks his life is over when his dad gets a job at NASA and an order to relocate from Brooklyn to Houston. It turns out, his life is only just beginning. Even though he's leaving the city he loves, his best friend, Deb, and his major internship with Buzzfeed, Clear Lake isn't devoid of opportunities. From his cute neighbor, Leon, and his bubbly sister, Kat, who know a thing or two about having to leave their whole lives behind, Cal realizes that maybe it won't be that bad. And, when the famous FlashFame journalist realizes how corrupt the StarWatch TV program is, he sets out to take down the reality show and save NASA. Overall: 5
Characters: 5 Cal is an endearing character. Though he has his selfish moments, he tends to put a lot of other people's emotions on himself. He worries intensely about how his arguing parents are going to pretend to be the perfect family for the astronaut reality show. He worries about what will happen to Deb and how he'll make it back to New York. He needs a plan, and he needs to be able to predict how things will play out. Cal experienced so much growth over the course of the story that I connected to a lot. I also like how honest of a look we get at his parents, at his mom's struggles with anxiety, and how they eventually work to heal their broken family dynamic. There's a lot of discussion of therapy (both what his mom does individually and couple's therapy) which I appreciated as any mentions help to normalize it. It's amazing to see how they learn to be more empathetic towards everyone's tough situations when they learn to look beyond their. own worldviews.
I also like how close of a look we get at the astronauts, their families, and the other NASA and StarWatch employees. It humanizes the entire group and leads to interesting dynamics. I love how even-handed Cal is when looking at the people he interacts with. He's extremely empathetic which makes him a perfect point of view character. It's easy to get an honest sense of where everyone is coming from.
I also really enjoyed his connection and relationship with Leon. There's a feeling that both boys don't quite know what their sexuality is yet and that they just have strong feelings for each other that creates a relationship that's just as special yet tentative. It was nice to see a queer relationship presented in this way because so many are self-assured and confident or at least very focused on well defined sexuality. This one just felt like Cal and Leon falling for each other independent of everything else and the outside world. For how big and flashy the plot is, I love that it's really centered in the relationships that happens and change in their new neighborhood.
Plot: 5 Yes, there's the major story where Cal has to fight against the horrible reality show to keep his journalism platform and to help facilitate funding for the Mars mission, but there's a lot more layers to the story. Phil manages to make it feel so small and intimate in the best way. The stakes feel higher because of the interpersonal relationship stakes that hang on to them. It dug into family, living with and loving people who deal with mental illness, and how people aren't necessarily bad even if they turn on you. I wasn't expecting as much understanding and introspection as I got and it complimented the exterior conflict perfectly.
Writing: 5 I really enjoyed Phil's writing style. It makes the story feel close and personal. It made me feel more immediately invested in the story. I am extremely impressed at the level of insight we got into everyone involved. He learns so many important life lessons through and because of those around them. While the arc is decently predictable, I wanted to experience it all through Cal's eyes. I've rarely found a book where the plot and tone are so perfectly balanced.
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