cover image Clues to the Universe

Clues to the Universe

Christina Li. Quill Tree, $17.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-06-300888-5

Debut author Li explores themes of bullying and cultural identity, volleying between two seventh grade narrators who, on the first day of school in 1984 Sacramento, mistakenly switch folders in science class. Budding scientist Ro, who is “exactly half Chinese, a quarter Scottish, and a quarter Irish,” lives with her mother and dreams of sending a rocket to space to honor her late father. Benji, a talented white artist who’s not fond of school, is obsessed with comics series Spacebound, which he’s convinced is authored by his absentee father, whom he thinks is communicating with him through the story. After the swapped folders lead to a friendly bond, the pair strike a deal: Ro will help find Benji’s dad if Benji helps Ro build a science fair–winning rocket. But with a bully in their class determined to thwart them both and their plan hitting roadblocks, their friendship suddenly seems anything but certain. Though the plot unfolds slowly into a predictable arc, alternating first-person chapters provide insight into each character’s fears, worries, and hopes, creating two compelling, relatable protagonists who recognize the strengths in their differences and help each other forge new paths forward. Ages 8–12. [em]Agent: Jessica Regel, Foundry Literary. (Jan.) [/em]