Grace Carter’s mother -the celebrity news anchor GG Carter – is everything Grace is not. GG is a star, with a flawless wardrobe and a following of thousands, while Grace, an aspiring astrophysicist, is into stars of another kind. She and her mother have always been in different orbits. Then one day GG is just … gone. Cameras descend on their house, news shows speculate about what might have happened and Grace’s family struggles to find a new rhythm as they wait for answers.
While the authorities unravel the mystery behind GG’s disappearance, Grace grows closer to her high school’s golden boy, Mylo, who has faced a black hole of his own.
She also uncovers some secrets from her mother’s long-lost past. The more Grace learns, the more she wonders. Did she ever really know her mother? Was GG abducted … or did she leave? And if she left, why?
(From the book blurb)
I’m going to start with a quote to explain the title of the book:
Tell me your favorite fact about space …Just pick one thing. What’s something that blows your mind away?’
‘The Universe is expanding, right? from the Bing Bang. But what’s actually expanding is space itself, which was also made at the time of the Big Bang…So what that means is there is no center of the universe. Everywhere is the center– which means nowhere is… We naturally want there to be a starting point, but anywhere I stand in the universe is the middle. Like, right now, here is the center’
If these lines made you think the book is nerdy or overly-lyrical, nothing can be further from reality. It is written in fairly simple colloquial language, short chapters and is very easy to follow.
It is also very easy to relate to and fall in love with its characters. The main one (the book is written from her point of view), Grace Carter, is the third Grace in a family line of strong intelligent women. Her grandmother was a famous actress. Her Mom- GG Carter is a news anchor, a very public figure, a face of her TV channel. Grace herself is not interested in fame. She loves astronomy, in particular, discovering exoplanets by methodically watching the skies and doing complex calculations. She also loves playing with her younger brother Charlie and verbally sparring with her best friend Iris (Grace can always tell what mood Iris is in by the number of bangles on her wrist). Grace is curious, perceptive, loyal and very non-assuming. Then there is also a boy, Mylo McLean, whose hobby is taking photos of butterflies to capture this one special moment of beauty when everythings stands still. Mylo is gorgeous and popular and perhaps their orbits would have never crossed but for Iris who would like to involve his rich family in her charity.
Milo asks Grace to put a good word in for him, as he would like to interview Grace’s mom for his English assignment. The only time they can do it is during a soccer game. Everything is going fine and Grace is about to introduce Mylo to her mother, when they realise she had disappeared after having taken a telphone call.
What follows is endless police interviews, news crews surrounding their house, stress, worry, re-adjustment and perpetual waiting, so familiar to people whose loved ones have been abducted or just disappeared without a trace. Grace and Mylo’s relationship becomes closer because he, out of all people in the universe, is the person who can understand the best what she is going through.
I went into this book expecting a mystery- there is one, don’t get me wrong- but it isn’t central to the novel. In fact, it gets solved fairly early in the book and to be honest, it isn’t something I could have guessed or worked out. The book is much more about growing up and how the relationships we forge with other people change and develop over the time. The center of the universe is everywhere where you are. You are influenced and influence other people, their feelings, their happiness or lack of, their choices.
A big part of the book is about a mother-daughter relationship, which is realistic and poignant at the same time. During the long days of waiting for any news from the police on how the investigation of the kidnapping is going, Grace thinks a lot about the changes in her Mom’s appearance, character and family interactions, as the constant work stress gradually took away the mom she knew as a child. Grace knows that ‘we’re different versions of ourselves with different people’ (and also different versions with the same people at different times) and what Grace needs desperately is rediscover her mother and their connection.
The book is on the long side, but if you believe that everything worth having in this life happens over time, especially love and friendships, you are not going to complain, because what you see is the evolution of the characters which requires work. It is also optimistic, reflective and genuine.
…Galaxies collide all the time, like cosmic car crashes. Even in the impossible vastness of space, the gravity of a bigger galaxy will pull a smaller one, suck in its dust and gas and its solar systems, absorbing them..I’m looking at images of these crashes on my computer when it occurs to me that we slam into peole around us, invisibly all the time. Through the things we say and don’t say. What we do and don’t do. That we are slowly changed by the constant bombardment. That we consume and are consumed, until we become products of our interactions, made of old and new parts, simultaneously broken and healing.
The Title: The Center of The Universe
Publication date: Apil 2nd, 2019
Publisher: Kids Can Press
Genre: Thrillers and Suspense
Age Category: 14 to 18, Grades 9 to 12