30 Days of Pride: The Gravity of Us by Phil Stamper

Title: The Gravity of Us by Phil Stamper

Publisher: Bloomsbury YA

Publication date: 4 February 2020

Genre: Young Adult | Contemporary | Romance

Page extent: 314 pages

Rating:

Goodreads blurb: 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.

The Gravity of Us is YA for space nerds. It was a fun and enjoyable read but lacked substance for me. It felt very familiar to K.Ancrum’s The Weight of the Stars, with just a bit more focus on the space science and a little less focus on the excellent character development. Which is probably why I thought The Weight of the Stars did gay space YA better.

The Gravity of Us follows teen journalist Cal as his family is uprooted from his home in Brooklyn to Texas, after his dad gets a job as the last astronaut on a mission to Mars. But when they get there, Cal’s journalism reveals unhappy truths about the project, and he needs to find a way to tell his family without hurting them.

The Gravity of Us very much hearkened back to the 60s era space race. The energy and passion in the book brought that era into a modern day setting, with new reality TV show ShootingStars following the drama in the astronauts lives. This felt so realistic and I could 100% imagine exactly this book happening if we ever did start a mission to go to Mars. I liked the emphasis on the fakeness of reality shows, it felt like a (lighter) version of Unreal, a show I absolutely adore for the way it utterly takes down reality shows like The Bachelor. It also started a journey to exploring the reasons behind space travel, thanks to the focus on the less central employees (i.e. not the astronauts) at NASA and their reasonings for joining the program. But I wish it had gone deeper. There’s a few vague ‘but what if this could change the future for the better’ lines but nothing that goes beyond surface level arguments for space travel, which I think would have made this more interesting.

There is also both anxiety and depression rep in this book, which is really great to see. However, both of these felt a little surface level 101 representation. Leon was sad. Cal’s mum didn’t like parties because she’s anxious. And….that was about the entirety of their mental health rep. Cal’s anxiety was better handled, it felt more fleshed out and delves deeper into the real impacts of living with anxiety, such as the way Cal always feels the needs to fix things, to want to be seen as a normal family etc. I wanted the secondary characters to be more fleshed out. Which leads to my main issue with the book: everything felt very surface level, except for Cal himself. It felt like the Cal show. I appreciated The Gravity of Us shows Cal fucking up multiple times, and him trying to change and realising his mistakes. But I couldn’t quite forgive the time he spent trying to change Leon. The way Cal handled Leon’s depression just felt….yeah not good. I don’t know how to put it into words. It felt like he didn’t understand (and didn’t really try to understand) how Leon’s depression appears. Cal spent a lot of time thinking about his mum’s anxiety, and about situations that would make her uncomfortable (the aforementioned parties), which is great to see a kid taking that kind of care with their parents! But why didn’t he do that with Leon as well? It made Leon’s depression seem less important, and less life-impacting, than anxiety.

But despite my issues with the book, as this isn’t a particularly deep book, my problems with it are therefore not particularly deep either. It was fun and cute, the romance was sweet, it was cool reading about a modern day space age and I liked the focus on the scientists and their passion in this book. I feel like most of my issues probably stem from the fact I went it knowing this had a very similar pitch to The Weight of the Stars and subconciously thinking I would get something similar. And K.Ancrum is particularly brilliant at writing difficult, sometimes dark, and deep discussions into her work so I think I expected a bit more of that, rather than all cute, sweet romance. But that’s my fault!

If you’re looking for a fun, light gay romance, or looking for a contemporary book with a bit of a space geek edge, then I totally recommend this book to you! If you’re looking for particularly deep discussions about space exploration or detailed mental health representation, this isn’t for you. But it does cute romance well.

30 Days of Pride: The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J Klune

Title: The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J Klune

Publisher: Tor

Publication date: 17 March 2020

Genre: Adult | Fantasy

Page extent: 393 pages

Rating:

Goodreads blurb: A magical island. A dangerous task. A burning secret.

Linus Baker leads a quiet, solitary life. At forty, he lives in a tiny house with a devious cat and his old records. As a Case Worker at the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth, he spends his days overseeing the well-being of children in government-sanctioned orphanages.

When Linus is unexpectedly summoned by Extremely Upper Management he’s given a curious and highly classified assignment: travel to Marsyas Island Orphanage, where six dangerous children reside: a gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, an unidentifiable green blob, a were-Pomeranian, and the Antichrist. Linus must set aside his fears and determine whether or not they’re likely to bring about the end of days.

But the children aren’t the only secret the island keeps. Their caretaker is the charming and enigmatic Arthur Parnassus, who will do anything to keep his wards safe. As Arthur and Linus grow closer, long-held secrets are exposed, and Linus must make a choice: destroy a home or watch the world burn.

An enchanting story, masterfully told, The House in the Cerulean Sea is about the profound experience of discovering an unlikely family in an unexpected place—and realizing that family is yours.

Well my heart has melted into a puddle of rainbows, this is ghost Rachel speaking. I come to you from beyond the grave with the gift of a book review for the happiest, most joyful, so fucking queer, loveliest, sweetest, glorious book I’ve read all year. This was magnificent. I read this book a month or two ago near the start of the coronavirus stress and isolation here in Australia, and I’m so glad I could escape into this world with these beautiful characters during that lonely time.

Linus is a caseworker for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth (DICOMY). He is assigned a new, highly classified case whereby he must go to a secret orphanage on an island where six special magical children live, to investigate if the orphanage is up to DICOMY standard. There, he is changed and renewed by this children and their caretakers, Arthur and Zoe, as he comes to know their lives and see underneath the monster society has labelled them as.

These six children are the life blood of this book, giving it the hope and joy which made this book so special. Each of these children are special, more powerful than other magical children which is why they have come to be placed in this particular orphanage. We have:

  • Talia: a female gnome (the being female makes her unique as this has never before been heard of). She is such a fierce character, full of threats and bluster and grump, and yet at a moment’s notice can be touchingly sweet.
  • Sal: a teen who can turn into a Pomeranian, though one who can also pass this magic on if he bites you. He has had an awful, terrible childhood, passing through 12 orphanages until he was placed on the island. He is terrified of adults and constantly startled and frightened, but grows into his confidence as he learns to have faith that this home is permanent.
  • Theodore: a highly intelligent wyvern, clumsy as he hasn’t quite grown into his wings yet, who has a secret hoard of treasure and a particular fondness for buttons, who looks at the world with such beauty, even the smallest things imaginable.
  • Pree: a traumatised young forest sprite, who saw her mother die in front of her, who is dealing with powers she struggles to control, full of teenage flounce.
  • Chauncey: the adorable and sweet Chauncey, a creature no one knows quite what is, with a see-through body and tentacles, who’s only dream in the world is to help people by being a bellhop, and yet has only ever been told he is a monster.
  • Lucy: and then we have the enigmatic and morbid Lucy, the Antichrist himself, but still just a six year old child who is overwhelmed with nightmares of spiders and destruction, but who has a brilliant love for music and cooking.

I cannot express the beauty of these characters in words. They are so perfectly whole and wonderful, Klune has created a cast of characters who make this story feel like home. You feel as much at home with these children as Linus does, as they drag him from his dreary office job into a world of colour. And dear old Linus. What can I say about a man who sees himself as below ordinary, as the most unspecial, unimportant person on the planet, but who does what he can with what he’s got. I would say his hate for himself when he such a wonderful person is utterly destroying, but that would be wrong, because Linus doesn’t hate himself, somehow it’s much worse than that: he thinks he is invisible, devoid of any use, and his indifference and acceptance of what he sees as uselessness is so much worse to see. Because he is a beautiful person, so able to see hope and love in the world and yet unable to accept it as something he could have. But these children, Arthur and Zoe, provide an opportunity for his life to gain colour.

Arthur himself is an enigma for much of the book, standing on the edge of the story but always looking and seeing Linus for who he is. He helps Linus to see his worth, much like he helps the children to see theirs.

In addition to the beauty of these characters, Klune makes subtle (and sometimes decidedly unsubtle) jabs at our capitalist, surveillance state, from the robotic blank slate that is the DICOMY offices, to the obscene 250 page Rules and Regulations manuel, to the posters decorated everywhere – Say Something, See Something. This integration of satire adds to the humour of the children to create this funny and inviting novel, set in a world so much like our own in so many ways.

Klune’s writing is full of humour and smiles. I felt so happy to see this world and be around these characters and I long to see more of them. I didn’t want this world to end, but it did, and I was so full of happy tears and joy at this delightful book which brightened up a very dark and lonely time in isolation.