Book Review: The Year We Fell from Space by Amy Sarig King
Publisher’s Book Description: Liberty Johansen is going to change the way we look at the night sky. Most people see the old constellations, the things they’ve been told to see. But Liberty sees new patterns, pictures, and possibilities. She’s an exception.
Some other exceptions:
Her dad, who gave her the stars. Who moved out months ago and hasn’t talked to her since.
Her mom, who’s happier since he left, even though everyone thinks she should be sad and lonely.
And her sister, who won’t go outside their house.
Liberty feels like her whole world is falling from space. Can she map a new life for herself and her family before they spin too far out of reach?
I remember distinctly the day in the 4th grade when I came home from school and my parents told me to go get my brother. I knew in that moment on my way to get my brother that my parents would be announcing that they were separating. In my memory, the day that they told us they were officially getting divorced was exactly the same. I don’t know if that’s true or just a trick of memory. I remember promises made and promises broken. I remember fear and anger and confusion and parents who started dating other people. And I remember one day going camping with my Dad and him asking if we wanted him to tell us why they were getting a divorce and my just telling him no and walking away.
I tell you all of this because as a reader, The Year I Feel from Space was all too real for me and it was a very hard read. I loved it, I’m glad it exists in this world, and I’m here to tell you, it’s very authentic and real. And all of that is what made this a personally hard read for me.
I’m also here to tell you that there are kids just like me who need this book in the world. I needed this book in the world. I love that on Tuesday, October 15th, 2019, this book will exist in the world for every kid like me who needed it then or needs it now.
The Year We Fell from Space isn’t just about divorce, it’s also about navigating a world of feelings and mental illness. I am a person who parents with a mental illness; like the dad in this book, I struggle with depression (with some good ole’ fashioned anxiety sprinkled in to make it even more interesting.) I loved everything that this book had to say about mental illness. I appreciated the acknowledgements that came each time it was talked about. It is so vitally important the way that the characters talk about how depression isn’t the same for everyone and how it can look different. I like that it acknowledges things like guilt and failure and anger and how they, too, are wrapped up in depression. 1 in 4 people struggle with mental illness and it is profoundly meaningful for kids to read books that acknowledge the very real impact that having a parent with depression has on their lives and on their families.
There are a lot of other great moments in this book. There is a nontraditional mom who loves hiking, camping and feminism. There is talk about periods and acknowledge that it isn’t just girls who need to learn about them. There are a lot of great moments in which various characters wrestle with the topic of friendship and bullying in various ways.
And because this is a book written by Amy Sarig King, it weaves all these thoughts together using very creative strings, or I guess to stay on theme I should using very creative star maps. As someone who has read all of the works of A.S. King, I saw echoes of Ask the Passengers and Still Life with Tornado used in different and creative ways to give Liberty the opportunity to explore both her concept of self and her feelings. King uses her personal style to tell a meaningful and beautiful story while dipping into the surreal and creative; she is a master storyteller that enlightens, entertains, moves and challenges. King gets below the surface in ways that few writers do. I love that she has taken the respect she has always shown in the intellect and creativity in teens while writing YA and has extended that same respect to middle grade readers.
The Teen also read this book and because I knew she liked it I asked her why. Her response was, “I like that it says you’re allowed to feel whatever it is you feel and that it ends with a sense of hope.”
I love Liberty and her family and I think that readers will as well. This is a hopeful look at what it means to fall apart, to fall from space, and then try to put yourself and the pieces of your life back together again. This is an affirmation of feelings, the good, the bad and the ugly, and an exploration of what it means to feel on fire from anger and guilt on the inside. It’s an affirmation of the most fundamental truth of life: we are always in the process of becoming the new-new-version of us because we are a work in progress. And at the end of the day, nobody is perfect but how we deal with our own imperfections and the imperfections of those around us matters.
I highly recommend The Year We Fell from Space by Amy Sarig King. And so does 4th grade Karen who just wanted someone to help her navigate her parent’s divorce. And so does 46-year-old Karen who is trying to parent with depression. This book is written with middle grade readers in mind, but it’s a story for all of us in a world that needs more empathy and understanding.
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