Leigh Ann’s Recs No. 7 – Planet Earth Is Blue

A white girl with long brown hair tied back, wearing a pink sweater and blue jeans, is standing in a green meadow, looking and reaching upwards towards a glowing moon hovering in the starry sky. The title is fit into the moon, reading “Planet Earth Is Blue.” At the bottom is the author’s name in white text, “Nicole Panteleakos.” Source: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/39079595-planet-earth-is-blue

Once, my mom told me about the space shuttle Challenger.

Since it was the first time a teacher was going into space, schools across the United States wheeled bulky televisions into classrooms, auditoriums, and libraries, packing in students of all ages to watch, live, as the shuttle launched.

My mother was a teenager. She and her friends sat shoulder to shoulder in the library, jostling for a good view.

The countdown. Liftoff. Huge plumes of smoke—and then, a huge fireball in the sky.

Challenger exploded, killing all onboard instantly.

In my mother’s library, shocked silence reigned. A teacher came to her senses and shut off the television to spare the students, but there was no erasing the sight burned into the retinas of everyone who had seen, everyone who had heard.

As I recall my mother’s story, I find myself wondering: How many boys and girls that day decided to trash their dream of becoming an astronaut?

David Bowie’s Space Oddity

Ground Control to Major Tom

Ground Control to Major Tom

Take your protein pills and put your helmet on

Ground Control to Major Tom (ten, nine, eight, seven, six)

Commencing countdown, engines on (five, four, three)

Check ignition and may God’s love be with you (two, one, liftoff)

This is Ground Control to Major Tom

You’ve really made the grade

And the papers want to know whose shirts you wear

Now it’s time to leave the capsule if you dare

“This is Major Tom to Ground Control

I’m stepping through the door

And I’m floating in a most peculiar way

And the stars look very different today

For here

Am I sitting in a tin can

Far above the world

Planet Earth is blue

And there’s nothing I can do

Though I’m past one hundred thousand miles

I’m feeling very still

And I think my spaceship knows which way to go

Tell my wife I love her very much she knows”

Ground Control to Major Tom

Your circuit’s dead, there’s something wrong

Can you hear me, Major Tom?

Can you hear me, Major Tom?

Can you hear me, Major Tom?

Can you “Here am I floating ’round my tin can

Far above the moon

Planet Earth is blue

And there’s nothing I can do”

In a starry expanse of space, an astronaut floats, reaching up to touch a glowing blue and red lightning bolt, iconic of Bowie. Source.

And now we come to the book recommendation: Planet Earth Is Blue by Nicole Panteleakos. You can read an interview with the author here.

Twelve-year-old Nova is eagerly awaiting the launch of the space shuttle Challenger–it’s the first time a teacher is going into space, and kids across America will watch the event on live TV in their classrooms. Nova and her big sister, Bridget, share a love of astronomy and the space program. They planned to watch the launch together. But Bridget has disappeared, and Nova is in a new foster home.

While foster families and teachers dismiss Nova as severely autistic and nonverbal, Bridget understands how intelligent and special Nova is, and all that she can’t express. As the liftoff draws closer, Nova’s new foster family and teachers begin to see her potential, and for the first time, she is making friends without Bridget. But every day, she’s counting down to the launch, and to the moment when she’ll see Bridget again. Because as Bridget said, “No matter what, I’ll be there. I promise.”

Overall, I found Planet Earth Is Blue to be a heartfelt coming of age story, very humanizing, as a young autistic girl navigates constant change while waiting for her sister to find her again. As a person who believes strongly in authentic portrayals and representations of disability, this book was very refreshing.

This book made me cry—a great thing, because for all my claims at being an empathetic person, it’s actually really hard to make me cry. I found myself being drawn into Nova’s experiences, feeling with her, not necessarily for her. I can really identity with her, since she has trouble expressing herself, which leads virtually all the adults (except her newest foster parents) to believe that she doesn’t understand, that she is “retarded,” which just isn’t true—and if even if it were true, it’s not okay to treat anyone as “subpar” or “inferior.” It’s just not.  

It’s also really important that Nova is a girl, given that white boys and men are more likely to be diagnosed with autism than any other race/ethnicity, and more likely to be diagnosed with autism than girls and women. This is an institutional and stigmatizing bias with very real consequences, particularly when it comes to disciplinary actions in schools.

Nova’s struggles expressing herself do not stop her from writing letters to her sister; the epistolary chapters are the ones I looked forward to the most, seeing her own experience in her own words. And it really underlines the fact that Nova and her sister never had difficulty understanding one another, and the other children in Nova’s Special Education class accept her for who she is as well–it’s the adults who seem unable to recognize the humanity of a child. Even her case worker had never heard Nova laugh until her new foster parents took her in and truly and genuinely supported her!

I highly recommend this book. We all need to consider how others feel, really learn to empathize.

Published by modcasters

We’re a group of graduate students studying English Literature and Language on a mission to discuss literature, provide access to those on the deafness and/or blindness spectrum, and rock mustachios.

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