By: Roger Reid
Reviewed by: Edward Reynolds
Junebug Books, 2008
As the follow-up to his first young adult novel Longleaf, author Roger Reid offers Space, the story of teen sleuth Jason Caldwell and his hair-raising discovery of international espionage at a Huntsville, Alabama, observatory. Seizing an opportunity to educate, Reid shares scientific enlightenment while engaging the reader with mysteries that lurk in each chapter of the tales he tells.
The story is narrated by fourteen-year-old Jason Caldwell, son of a physics professor who annually attends a gathering of former college pals informally known as the Space Cadets. The group’s yearly reunion revolves around study and discussion of astronomy. Jason’s invitation from his father to accompany the club silently stipulates that he “babysit” an ornery seventeen-year-old paraplegic, Stephen Warrensburg, whose mother is a Space Cadet. Two years earlier, the teen had been paralyzed in an automobile accident that killed his father. Young Warrensburg is convinced someone in the Space Cadets murdered his dad, convinced that a member of the group was passing top secret information to foreign governments. Jason Caldwell’s patience as he befriends the disabled lad is admirable, but he’s not so noble that he won’t punch an obnoxious wheelchair-confined kid in the nose.
Reid weaves scientific facts and figures throughout his book. The young Caldwell’s description of an observatory sets the scene: “I’ve been in observatories all over the country. They’re all the same, and they’re all different. They’re all the same in that they’re built around a telescope. The telescope is inside a dome. The dome sits on top of another building which houses machinery that rotates the dome three hundred and sixty degrees…. The dome has a slit, door of sorts, that will roll back and open just enough for the telescope to get a peek at the sky. The walls of the dome continue to protect the telescope from the intrusion of outside light and wind…. Like an ancient shrine, everything in and about an observatory is designed to elevate the observer’s vision to the heavens.” Caldwell concludes that while some observatories are built for comfort if there’s enough money in the budget, the Conrad Swanson Observatory on Monte Sano Mountain in Huntsville is “less than stellar.”
The presence of Stephen Warrensburg’s van is a constant nemesis that prompts Jason Caldwell to compare it to a “black hole.” Jason thinks aloud: “I know a good metaphor when I see one even if I don’t know the physics behind it. A black hole, from what little I understand, is a collapsed star with a mass millions or billions times greater than the sun. With a lot of mass comes a lot of gravity, and the gravity of a black hole is so great that nothing can escape. Nothing. Not even light.”
Roger Reid’s fiction is recounted in a riveting style reminiscent of Hardy Boys mysteries. Space makes for a fascinating bedtime or Saturday afternoon read, and even those well beyond their teenage years might find it more intriguing than first imagined. Nov 2008
Edward Reynolds is a writer living in Birmingham.