It is 1969 and the space race is on! Ten-year-old Mamie’s teacher, Mrs. Collins (no relation to astronaut Michael Collins; she checked), asks her students to write a letter to one of the three astronauts being sent to the moon on the Apollo 11 mission. Only Mamie picks Michael Collins because, as she says, “he’s the best one.” She’s not sure why, but she knows it must be true.
What begins as a simple school assignment quickly turns into an outlet for Mamie to talk with someone about her family problems. Her parents fight, her oldest sister has moved out, and her other sister, Bess, doesn’t care about anyone but her new boyfriend. Mamie’s only comforts are her relationship with her best friend and next-door neighbor, Buster, and her correspondence with Michael Collins.
This book tore my heart wide open from the very beginning. As a child of divorce, a lot of situations here really hit home. The bigger struggle throughout the book is the one between Mamie’s parents, although they are not even present for most of the story. Mamie often feels like she is the adult in the situation, shouldering the responsibilities that her parents are neglecting in their absence.
As Mamie learns more about the dangers the astronauts face on their mission, she learns that Michael Collins, although he may never set foot upon the surface of the moon, has the most important job of all. Without him steering the command service module, the astronauts would have had no way to get back home. Mamie realizes that she has a lot in common with Michael Collins. She “stays with the ship” so that her family will have a place to gravitate back to when they are ready.
Mamie is an incredibly mature and resilient ten-year-old. In fact, the only fault I could find with this novel was that sometimes her narrative voice sounded almost too adult, with a wisdom and insight far beyond her ten years. However, divorce and family issues do tend to make children grow up quickly, so even that is a trivial complaint.
This would be a great book for children dealing with divorce or parents separating. There’s no sugarcoating here, and Mamie herself acknowledges that even if her parents make up for now, they could still fall apart again. She openly acknowledges all the dysfunction and imperfection that is her family, but she still tries to be an anchor point for them. This book does an excellent job of depicting the toll a divorce can take on a child.
This is also a great book for avid space lovers and NASA history buffs! The excitement and suspense of the Apollo 11 mission is skillfully captured here. The anxiety that Mamie feels when she learns about all the ways the astronauts could fail and die is palpable.
I would also recommend this book for reluctant readers. It’s told in the form of Mamie’s letters to Michael Collins, which makes for a fairly quick read. Also, the space trivia will be of high interest to a lot of kids.
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