Clues to the Universe

Author: Christina Li

Publisher: Quill Tree Books

Release Date: January 12/21

Reviewer: Kathie

Thank you to Edelweiss+ and the publisher for an eARC of this book.

This story is told in the alternating voices of Ro and Benji. Ro is starting a new school and is reeling from the death of her father a few months ago. Benji’s best friend moved away and he’s immersed himself in the world of his comics. When they accidentally switch purple folders during science class, they get a glimpse into the other’s lives, and are brought together when they return the folders and decide to work together to find Benji’s dad, and build Ro’s rocket for their science fair project. But things don’t run smoothly with either project, and the pair will have to accept that sometimes plans don’t always turn out the way you expect, and less than perfect may be good enough.

I really love the characters in this story, and the alternating viewpoints makes this a richer story with the perspective of both kids. I also love that Mr. Voltz, an elderly neighbor of Ro and the boss of Benji’s brother, Daniel, is connected to each of them in the beginning but plays a unifying role as the story develops. Ro’s family is Chinese American, and Benji gets to spend Chinese New Year with them, so I enjoyed the inclusion of the cultural details. I also saw a lot of myself in Ro, including her tenacity, her inability to give up on an idea, and wanting things to turn out perfect or the way they are “supposed” to be. There’s a lot that these characters can teach each other, and their influence on each other is powerful.

I would recommend this book for middle grade classrooms and libraries, and I look forward to reading more from this debut author.

Recommended: Gr. 5-7