Review: The Gravity of Us by Phil Stamper

  • Genre: YA contemporary/alternate universe
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury
  • Publication date: 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.

Expertly capturing the thrill of first love and the self-doubt all teens feel, debut author Phil Stamper is a new talent to watch.

Disclaimer: I received an eARC in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to Netgalley.

I generally enjoy alternate universe stories, and I found The Gravity of Us‘s world compelling–where there’s a renowned interested in space exploration and NASA, but it comes with reality TV of the astronauts and their families and a false sense of nostalgia in the 60s. Cal, the main character, is popular on an Instagram-like streaming app and fashions himself as a truth-telling journalist, so an obvious conflict of interest arises when his dad becomes the newest astronaut. This commentary, and a savvy social media journalist teen, engaged and grounded me as a reader.

The biggest strength of this book for me–and this comes with quite a bit of personal bias–is the development of the relationship between Cal and Leon. Cal has anxiety, and Leon has depression. To prevent their relationship from getting toxic, they have important conversations that was great to see modeled in YA (as someone who needed that when I was that age), like how Cal shouldn’t kiss Leon just to make him feel better. Cal’s overall mentality of needing to fix and plan everything is something presented as understandable but that he needs to work on. Cal’s mom is also anxious and recovering from grief, and she’s a lovely character.

I did find the pacing a bit odd. The book isn’t that long, and the eventual turns of the plot felt like they happened abruptly, as well as some aspects of the relationship, despite efforts to acknowledge that. As a result, the stakes didn’t feel quite as high as they needed to be for maximum impact.

I also feel compelled to comment that Leon is apparently from Indiana, from “the suburbs”…of Indianapolis? It doesn’t specify. He talked about corn, which is accurate, but anyone can do that. I learned a lot about Leon’s inner life with his depression and his unsureness about pursuing gymnastics, but his background was hazy. And this is mainly questionable because it’s also mentioned he has “dark brown” skin, but no evidence of any cultural history or perspective–especially as a queer kid–is in the text. I’m not really the best to criticize this, but it reminded me of this article, so I thought I would bring it up here. At the very least, I can tell you that Leon has a very different history growing up as probably one of the few kids of color in a suburb in Indiana AND as a queer kid in Indiana, compared to Cal in Brooklyn. It feels little frustrating when we know so much about Cal’s past.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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