A boy and his dog travel to New Mexico for the Southwest High-Altitude Rocket Festival in Jack Cheng’s debut novel See You In the Cosmos. And what starts off as a quest to launch a golden iPod into space via a homemade rocket slowly becomes 11-year-old Alex Petroski’s (along with canine Carl Sagan) search for his possibly not deceased father. However, what the young space fan doesn’t quite find in terms of answers, he more than makes up for in the form of a new half-sister named Terra — and a renewed relationship with his older brother Ronnie, an L.A.-based sports agent.
Cheng has a knack for creating unique characters that stay with the reader long after the story has moved on; from an independent teen who accompanies Alex on his initial train ride to Zed, a former motivational speaker who took a vow of silence and now communicates only through a chalkboard. But it’s Alex himself who makes all of them really stand out. Cheng’s choice to structure the novel as transcripts of his recordings — which are meant to teach aliens about life on Earth — is a stellar introduction to his precocious protagonist’s point of view. It also allows him to add a touch of levity to the novel’s darker moments, like Alex’s mother’s mental illness and parental neglect — all of which Cheng tackles with aplomb. B+