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Life, the universe and a golden iPod: the class book review

This space-age story voyages from the black holes of the universe to the unspoken secrets of the family home. Our reviewers were gripped

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This space-age story voyages from the black holes of the universe to the unspoken secrets of the family home. Our reviewers were gripped

Title: See You in the Cosmos Author: Jack Cheng Publisher: Puffin

Pupil reviews

‘Interesting, exciting, unexpected’

Ever wondered if there are people, aliens or some other weird and wonderful creatures on another planet somewhere in space? Well, Alex Petroski certainly does.

This book is about an 11-year-old boy with a brother who’s never around, a mum who doesn’t care about many things and a dead dad. Alex wants to launch his golden iPod with all his audio recordings into space, to show other people or things in the cosmos what earth is really like. He goes off with Carl Sagan (his dog named after his hero) to SHARF, a rocket-launching festival, to launch his iPod into space.

But Alex soon finds some evidence of his dad being alive. So, instead of going home, he goes with some new friends to LA and ends up going on an exciting road trip.

The book is written so you are hearing the recordings he’s making and what whoever receives the golden iPod would hear.

I really enjoyed this book because I thought it would just be about Alex going to launch his rocket but more things happened, making it more interesting, exciting, unexpected and a bigger story for the reader. It can be sad in some places and happy in others but is overall a great book and I would recommend it.

Annabel Henson, Year 7

‘The characters became like friends’

See You in the Cosmos, by Jack Cheng, is an action-packed book set in Colorado in central USA, about a talkative, space-obsessed boy named Alex Petroski.

Alex's biggest dream is to send his golden iPod into space, to show other life-forms out in the cosmos what Earth, his Earth, is really like. He intends to follow in the footsteps of his life-long hero, the astronomer Carl Sagan, who in 1977 launched his Golden Record on the Voyager spacecraft into space.

Alex, however, has some very big questions to ask and, with his dad dead, his mum troubled and his older brother working in Los Angeles, his efforts to find the answers become seemingly impossible. With all these thoughts going round in his head, one question seems to separate itself from the rest in a desperate attempt to be answered: "How can I be brave?"

Most of the story is in the first person, as it is told by Alex himself. He tells his story by making recordings on his golden iPod so, when reading the chapters, the reader is actually listening to all the recordings. However, other characters also tell part of the story, as it is not always Alex who is speaking on the recording.

As Alex narrates the story, everything is told from his point of view. This, for me, is the main reason why I find this book so hard to put down. Every new trouble or obstacle, happiness or triumph that Alex comes across is thought through and judged by him. This means that the reader sees their world (the one they live in) differently when they put the book down, almost as though they are Alex himself; they might begin to question life and the world as he does. When you finish the book, you come away feeling as though you still have little Alex's voice speaking to you through his golden iPod, helping you to overcome your own troubles. For me, the characters in the book became like friends as the book progressed, and that made them and the things that happened to them seem as real as if they actually existed and were living in the same world as us.

see you in the cosmos, jack cheng, puffin, book review, young adult, ya, fiction

My favourite part of the book was when Alex meets all his new friends for the first time on the way to launch his golden iPod into space. Their characters are made clear to the reader and also Alex from almost their first action, whether it is something kind, thoughtless, mean or friendly. I think that some of the characters actually change through the book. One male character, for example, is unpleasant and bad-tempered at the beginning but becomes aware of this and changes by the end. I also love the part in the book where Alex finds out the background of his dad's relationship with his mum, as it seems to open a new door for Alex and his future.

Jack Cheng is extremely good at gripping the reader – both physically and emotionally. As I got further into the book I couldn't resist laughing, crying and smiling along with Alex; he seems to understand right from wrong and kind from unkind very clearly, so I could easily appreciate and think about the situation he was in. I think that the ending was spectacular and well thought-through, as it really summarised Alex's character and left me feeling pleased and happy to be leaving Alex at the point he had reached – not sad and annoyed. Best of all, it answers his most pressing question – and does so in a revealing and positive way.

If you enjoy friendships, admire determination and courage and like to fully understand the meaning of the books you read and the characters within them, then this is the perfect book for you. It is a book for people who like a mixture of genres – relationships, mystery, action and adventure. My rating of See You in the Cosmos would be 9 and 3/4 out of 10. You will enjoy reading it, I'm sure.

Ophelia Mantell-Jacob, Year 7  

‘Taking me on adventures with the characters’

From the first few pages, I knew this book was for me! I felt this book was taking me on adventures with the characters themselves.

Alex and his dog, Carl Sagan, are the best of friends. They made a rocket and planned to launch it at the Albuquerque rocket-launching festival. But how many adventures will it take to get there, and what about afterwards?

The struggle of an 11-year-old is recognisable to many, as the stages of growing up can affect your life, for both bad and good.

This book just goes to show how you’ll get there, no matter how rough the route is to victory. I loved this book throughout, and I hope that Jack Cheng writes more extraordinary books like this one.

Ella Gray, Year 7  

‘I kind of love everything’

See You in the Cosmos is one of my most favourite books I’ve read this year. The book is told through a series of audio logs recorded on Alex Petroski’s golden iPod, which he plans to send to space during a competition.

Alex is obsessed with rockets and astronomy, and has a voice which I fell in love with on the first page. His drawn-out way of speaking just adds so much personality to the character, whereas a more standard style would make the book feel flat. The book is riding on this character and making him unique is crucial to the audience empathising with him at his lowest points.

The focus for the plot is telling the story of how Alex grows up and learns to understand the world. His outlook changes as the book goes on. The first time we see a major change is when his rocket fails during his launch at the competition. This is a genuinely saddening moment as you see his hopes and ambitions come together until it all falls apart. He then must learn that sometimes the world isn’t fair. One of the teams tell him about the times that their rocket fails and he is comforted by that and keeps that with him for the whole book.

Another component of the narrative is his dad, who Alex looks for when he goes to Las Vegas. Alex tells us about him being an amazing father and Terra, Alex’s half-sister, tells us the same story. How he played baseball with her and so many kind, happy things. This sets us up for the big reveal that Alex’s father is actually a horrible person. This shatters our preconceptions about this character as much as it does for Alex. This makes us feel the same as Alex and gets us to care about him as you know what it feels like for him.

His mother goes through the same treatment as his dad. She is raised up on a pedestal as a role model for Alex, but you can partly see through these cracks. Alex mentioning her “quiet days” is a small clue to her mental illness. She is then shown to have schizophrenia by Alex’s brother, Ronnie, who is used by the author as a way of showing the world as it is, in contrast to Alex’s naïve outlook on life. I really like this method of setting up something through Alex’s point of view and the having Ronnie change it. This feeds into the main point of the book: watching Alex grow up through events which challenge his views and ultimately changing his and the reader’s outlook on things.

Another unique part of this book is the method of delivery. As I mentioned, it is told through 52 different recordings from Alex & co, and I love it. This is a great non-conventional way of telling a story and it works so well. I feel like I empathise with these characters so much more and that makes everything feel so much more than it would if it was told from the standard third-person perspective. Another book that uses this audio-log style of writing is the Red Pyramid, which is another book I love. This audio-only style of writing also means that the story sound much more realistic. This style is not intrinsically better than anything else; I just like it more.

Overall See You in the Cosmos was a brilliant surprise. I loved the characters, I loved the theme of growing up. I kind of love everything. Definitely a must-read.

Arthur Rinaldi, Year 7

The reviewers are all pupils at at King Edward VI School in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk. They were commissioned by assistant headteacher David Gower.

If you or your class would like to write a review for TES, please contact Adi Bloom, on

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