Summary (from publisher copy, accessed on GoodReads):
11-year-old Alex Petroski loves space and rockets, his mom, his brother, and his dog Carl Sagan—named for his hero, the real-life astronomer. All he wants is to launch his golden iPod into space the way Carl Sagan (the man, not the dog) launched his Golden Record on the Voyager spacecraft in 1977. From Colorado to New Mexico, Las Vegas to L.A., Alex records a journey on his iPod to show other lifeforms what life on earth, his earth, is like. But his destination keeps changing. And the funny, lost, remarkable people he meets along the way can only partially prepare him for the secrets he’ll uncover—from the truth about his long-dead dad to the fact that, for a kid with a troubled mom and a mostly not-around brother, he has way more family than he ever knew.
I wasn't so sure about this book, but Alex definitely won me over and now I kind of can't stop thinking about it. I, just like a bunch of characters in this book, just want to wrap him up in a hug and try to make everything turn out okay for him. It's never specified but Alex reads like he might be on the autism spectrum with his one-track mind for astronomy and his literal interpretation of some of the things said to him.
There's a lot being said here about the definition of family - the family that you're born with and the family that you choose. And the magic of Alex is that he has this way of bringing people together and just trusting that things will turn out okay. And as we get further and further into the book, we learn that there's a lot that's not really okay about Alex's life.
I had to suspend disbelief pretty hard for portions of this book, but it was worth it to meet the cast of quirky characters that Jack Cheng has created here. From a silent, vegan rocketeer to a teenage waitress who stops at a lake for a swim on a whim, the supporting cast here shines. Alex is the one thing all the supporting characters have in common and he's bright and endearing enough to make that believable.
Alex's endearing and sometimes naive voice reminded me greatly of Albie's in Absolutely Almost by LIsa Graff, so for readers who fall in love with Alex, I'd suggest they meet Albie. More books to try with a similar voice are Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin and Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan.
Readers who like the road trip story arc might enjoy Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech or Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave by Jen White.
Readers who are super into the astronomy aspect might like Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass, in which a massive crowd gathers to watch an eclipse.