In Panteleakos’ debut, a nonverbal, autistic astronomy enthusiast counts down to the space shuttle Challenger’s launch—and her runaway sister’s return—in January 1986.
Twelve-year-old Nova Vezina hates deviating from routine, which makes moving from 11 foster homes in seven years challenging. But each new school’s verdict is the same: “Cannot read. Cannot speak. Severely mentally retarded.” A “thinker, not a talker,” Nova can’t explain that her big sister, Bridget, taught her the alphabet and read her novels, such as Peter Pan. Bridget disappeared after they ran from their last home, but she’d promised they’d watch the Challenger’s launch together. As Nova counts down the remaining 10 days, third-person chapters alternate with Nova’s printed letters to Bridget (“scribbles” to everyone else), which grow uneasy as Bridget doesn’t appear. Interspersed flashbacks reveal the sisters’ turbulent past and sensitively illustrate the uncertainty of foster care. The author poetically immerses readers in Nova’s mind as Nova endures “the constant scratching of sounds that [invade] her brain,” befriends fellow special education classmates, and struggles to be understood by both well-meaning and patronizing adults. Bursting with worry, joy, empathy, humor, and even mischief, Nova is endearingly nuanced. The countdown’s multiple conclusions dovetail in an ending Nova might call “Crayola Pine Green”: a mixture of conflicting emotions that will linger long after the last page. An author’s note provides background on autism and the Challenger disaster. Nova and Bridget are ethnically ambiguous; Nova’s foster mother is light-skinned, her foster father dark-skinned, and her foster sister biracial.
Stellar. (author’s note) (Historical fiction. 8-12)