Despite the cover and the title, The Gravity of Us is not set in space. Instead it is a well-grounded, contemporary, YA story following social media-savvy teenager Cal as his life gets turned upside-down. When Cal’s father is unexpectedly chosen for a NASA mission, the whole family suddenly finds themselves moving to a compound for astronauts and getting sucked into a reality show that becomes their lives. At the compound, Cal meets and quickly falls for another astronaut’s son, Leon, at the same time as he struggles with the disappointment of not being able to follow his carefully planned career path, and discovers some ugly truths behind the program that’s brought his family to Houston.
The book started off in a wonderful way in New York, where we got to see Cal’s life with his best friend Deb and his work with the video account and his passion for fact-based journalism. But after the move to Texas, I had some issues with Cal and how he acted, especially towards Deb. I really missed her and would have loved for her to get a bigger part of the story, and didn’t like the way Cal ignored her problem after she’d always supported him. The way Cal treated Deb made him come across as self-centered, shallow and less likable, unfortunately.
I also have some objections when it comes to Cal’s relationship with Leon. It all felt a little too fast and like they ended up falling for each other simply because they were the only teenagers around. I just didn’t feel the chemistry between them and Phil Stamper didn’t even make me believe that they would be interested in one another. There was no spark between them whatsoever, so the romance part was a huge let down, sadly.
What I did appreciate in this book though was the honest and sensitive way in which Leon’s depression was described. I really liked that Leon set boundaries and that Cal respected them. It felt very authentic the way Leon couldn’t just be “fixed”. There is no simple solution, and not even love will suddenly make a person “cured” and all happy again. I also liked that Cal questioned his sexuality and how Phil Stamper provided a bit of backstory on how Cal and Deb used to date, before becoming friends.
There were two parts of the book that I loved absolutely most. The first was the wonderfully geeky NASA stuff, and how the scientists were given a chance to talk about their work and their passion for science. And the second was the humor that made this such a wonderful and light read, despite the heavy topics. I really loved the idea of combining science with a reality show, first love, complicated family relationships and all the 1960s references and the cassette hunting.
Overall, I felt a bit let down by this book when it comes to the main character not being very likable and the romance being very badly executed, but it was nevertheless an entertaining and cute read. Kudos to Phil Stamper for the original story and for keeping it light and fluffy at the same time as it managed to deal with some heavy topics like mental health issues such as Leon’s depression and Cal’s mom’s anxiety.
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