Affecting, original debut about a girl’s coming of age, set against the backdrop of the NASA space-shuttle program.
Eleven-year-old Dolores Gray dreams of becoming an astronaut, an aspiration that’s a little less far-fetched for her than for the average American kid. A math prodigy and the daughter of a NASA technician, Dolores has grown up in the shadow of Cape Canaveral and its gleaming promise of space travel. Her father, Frank, takes her to all the launches; they have cozy conversations about rocket boosters; and Dolores keeps a secret diary about the lives of the astronauts. But late in the summer of 1984, her father is laid off, and everything seems to lose its center. At her middle school, Dolores befriends intense fellow whiz-kid Eric Biersdorfer, whose father is NASA’s Director of Launch Safety. Hoping he might be persuaded to rehire Frank, Mrs. Gray invites Eric’s family to dinner and then begins an affair (or so Dolores believes) with Mr. Biersdorfer. Soon thereafter, Frank is rehired, and his wife moves out. Over the ensuing months, Dolores and her younger sister Delia rarely see their mother, but they overhear muffled cries during their father’s late-night phone conversations. In the fall of 1985, Dolores starts high school (a year early), where smoking, sex and cutting class compete for her attention with the reliable launches and returns that at last make her beloved space-shuttle program seem invincible. When the Challenger explodes in January 1986, the fragile threads of hope Dolores had clung to—that her mother would return, that her father’s job was secure, that her future could be shaped by her will to fly—disintegrate along with the shuttle. Dean deftly shapes her tale, moving from the complicated social system of children and piercing details of adolescent cruelty (Dolores begins to shun Eric at school at the prodding of an alpha girl) to the secretive world of parents and the lofty aspirations of those dedicated to the mystery of outer space.
An accomplished first novel about the American family.