Planet Earth Is Blue by Nicole Paneleakos

Published by Wendy Lamb Books

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Summary:  Nova and her older sister Bridget have been in the foster care system for years.  To Nova, Bridget has been like a mother: she’s five years older, and Nova is autistic with limited verbal abilities.  As the story opens, Nova is counting down the days until the 1986 launching of the space shuttle Challenger, not only because she and Bridget are huge NASA fans, but also because Bridget is missing and has promised to watch the launch with Nova.  Nova is with a new foster family who finally seem to understand and appreciate her, and she’s placed in a sixth grade classroom where she begins to thrive.  Her story is told in chapters that alternate between third-person narration and letters that Nova writes to Bridget–they appear mostly as scribbles to others but are meaningful to her.  When Nova sees the Challenger explode on TV, she finally understands what has happened to Bridget; it’s a sad day, but one that sets her on a path of hope for the future.  Includes an author’s note with more details on the Challenger and autism, which she herself has.  240 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Readers will gain some amazing insights into the mind of a nonverbal protagonist that may shift their assumptions about kids with autism.  There’s some depressing stuff about kids in foster care, particularly kids with special needs, but Nova’s final foster parents are nothing short of heroic.

Cons:  Another 2019 middle grade novel with themes of grief and loss.  Yay.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

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