Taking Off by Jenny Moss. (Grades 8+) Walker Books for Young Readers, January 2011. 310 pages. Reviewed from ARC provided by publisher.
It's 1985 in Houston, Texas and high school senior Annie has a secret. She wants to be a poet. Only, she's having a hard time admitting that to anyone, even to herself. What kind of living can you make being a poet? It seems an impossible dream. So Annie's stuck. While her best friend is going off to college next year and her boyfriend Mark wants her to stay in town and marry him, Annie is frozen by indecision. And then she meets Christa McCauliffe, an ordinary high school teacher who was chosen from thousands of applicants to go into space on the Challenger. Suddenly, Annie has a glimmer of hope. If this ordinary teacher can reach for her dreams, why can't Annie?
The first thing I like about Taking Off is Jenny Moss's incredibly realistic portrayal of a teen at an impasse. Senior year can be a paralyzing year - too many choices (or not enough choices) making a decision about one's future seem impossible. Annie's definitely in that place. Her mom's encouraging her to go to college, but Annie's not sure that's what she wants. Annie starts some soul searching, inspired by her new idol Christa McCauliffe, and she begins to figure it out, but it's never an easy decision. This is exactly what some of our teens are facing and they'll see themselves in Annie's dilemma.
I also really appreciated the historical details that Jenny Moss used to paint a picture of 1985-86. She's not only used details from her own experiences, but she's filled in the gaps quite nicely with a bunch of research. Jenny Moss captures the spark that Christa McCauliffe ignited in the nation. And her author's note is wonderful, providing some additional biographical information about McCauliffe. The final book will also include authors' memories of inspirational teachers and memories of Christa from her students (not included in the ARC).
As I was reading this book and booktalking it to our teen librarian, she asked me if I thought that the story would have as much impact on today's teens who would not have been born when the Challenger disaster happened. Well, speaking as a reader who was three years old in January 1986 and has no memory of the event, I can tell you that it'll have an impact. Jenny Moss provides many resources for students seeking further information about Christa McCauliffe and Challenger.
This book got me thinking about the future of publishing, honestly, and how neat it would be to read this as an e-book with multimedia tied into it. You could listen to the music that Annie's dad blasts in the car as they road trip to Florida to see the launch. You could watch videos of the Challenger disaster news coverage, like Annie watched in her hotel room after the explosion. You could see photos of art cars of the time and portraits of the astronauts.
I'd recommend this title to fans of Rose Sees Red by Cecil Castellucci for teens who liked the 80s setting and I'd recommend it to any teens interested in the Challenger disaster.
Taking Off will be on shelves January 4!