In this continuation of a middle-grade series, a middle schooler weathers setbacks and self-doubt in his quest to build a working Mars probe.
Mr. Berg, who takes guitar lessons from young Jimi’s dad, is a wealthy entrepreneur whose private aerospace company plans to send an astronaut into orbit around the Earth. When Jimi’s brainy best friend, Isaac, brags that building a small Mars probe would be no big deal, Jimi shrugs assent, so Mr. Berg calls their bluff. He gives the pair the basic criteria for the probe’s function, size, and weight, supplies them with funds, and names a deadline. If they succeed, he says, he’ll launch their probe from his orbiting rocket. Isaac takes the lead in the probe’s design but soon loses interest. When circumstances prod Jimi into seeing the project through, what began as a slapdash creation of cardboard and tape becomes a full-fledged science-fair project, and then a feasible, 3-D blueprint for a working probe. The novel relates this evolution in detail, framing the narrative as a scientific process of research, application, discussion, modification, and refinement. But Rink (Jimi and Isaac 2a: Keystone Species, 2014, etc.), a mechanical engineer, science-fair leader, and sports coach for kids, takes care that there’s nothing pedantic about Jimi’s bumpy ride to launch day. The soccer-playing, saxophone-playing, jazz-loving middle schooler observes his world with an authentic, humorous first-person voice. Jimi’s epiphany rings true when he’s struck by the fact that his fellow science-fair competitors have done “stuff that I never thought a kid could do,” that adults are interested in what they have to say, and that no one “told anybody to shut up all day.” As he sifts through research, his own and others’ “crazy ideas” and his sudden, “weird” leaps of insight, Rink’s message to readers is clear: that questions, mistakes, and a willingness to keep trying in the face of failure are integral to problem-solving and innovation—and that kids can be innovators, too.
A lively narrative that ably combines rocket science, humor, and relatable characters.