In a tale built on well-worn tropes and characters, Brown twists together an impending cross-country move, a budding friendship with a crusty old neighbor and some basic astronomy.
As part of a family that looks to the stars for its names, seventh-grader Arcturus Betelgeuse Chambers—Arty—knows his constellations but also believes that he can contact Martians with a contraption cobbled together from mirrors and a flashlight. His settled world is knocked askew first by the arrival of a secretive new neighbor with a spooky habit of sneaking off into the woods at night and then by the revelation that his father’s new job will require that the family move far away. The neighbor turns out to be, excitingly, Cash Maddux, an embittered ex-astronaut who never flew but still goes out to gaze at the heavens. Their shared interest brings the two together. The author outfits Arty with a comically inept friend (who learns grace at ballet school), a mom who copes with stress by baking and two stereotypical sisters with equally typecast friends to ridicule.
It may be formulaic, but the comic byplay is often nicely gross, and the science talk dovetails with current pedagogical fads. (appendix of Mars facts) (Fiction. 10-12)