Book Review : The Gravity of Us

  South Carolina Young Adult Book Award Nominee, Phil Stamper’s The Gravity of Us tells the story of Cal Lewis, a New York City teenager doubling as a social media journalist. While looking forward to an internship with Buzzfeed, his dad -an airplane pilot and wannabe astronaut- applies for NASA’s Orpheus V Mars Mission which would require the whole family to relocate to Texas, throw a wrench in Cal’s journalistic career, and force him to leave the friends he loves. 

   Truly, this is the story of a teen who is accustomed to being able to control everything in his life -even in adversity- but then finds his control stripped away from him. When Cal’s parents fight, he can sneak down the fire escape of his Brooklyn home to see his best friend Deb. When his views drop on FlashFame, he knows exactly what to post to solve the problem. Even when his dad brings up his application to the mission, Cal feels in control because there’s no way a Delta pilot with no true scientific background could actually land the job, right? Wrong. His dad lands the job and with only a weekend’s notice, his family is on their way to a new life in Texas. 

   The truth is, Cal could never have been in full control and the move makes it all the more clear to Cal. He reaches out to Buzzfeed but with the distance, the internship is off the table. Cal’s friendship with Deb is on the line as growing tensions reveal issues previously left unaddressed in their friendship. Even worse, because of Star Watch’s media coverage of the astronauts and their families, Cal won’t even be allowed to post stories to FlashFame anymore. 

   In a daring -and somewhat reckless- move, Cal ignores the rules placed on his family and uses the FlashFame app to share the changes in his life and to even bash Star Watch for their policies. He gets caught up in the threat of lawsuits, communications with NASA, and shifty news directors while still just being a teen trying to cultivate the life and the career he dreams of. 

   Cal’s one glimmer of hope comes from the son of Grace Tucker, another astronaut on the mission. Since Grace’s role in the mission was announced, Cal idolized and watched the Tucker family giving interviews and had an early interest in the ‘astrokid’ and former gymnast, Leon Tucker. Once he meets the family, he realizes they aren’t as picture-perfect as he thought they were and soon finds a connection with Leon. While he isn’t just the attractive and perfect kid Cal expected, Leon quickly makes his way into Cal’s heart. Though they have fun sneaking around at parties, goofing off at community service, and even sharing heart to hearts, they fear making anything official with Star Watch always snooping for a story and the ever-present possibility that the mission could be suspended sending them to their old homes states apart. 

   The book provides a beautifully accurate representation of the queer relationship between Cal and Leon. Stamper, who identifies with the LGBTQ+ community, does an excellent job representing this community without making it feel forced or overly exaggerated. Though the book is more so a coming-of-age novel, the pure romance of it all draws the reader in and makes them feel truly entranced by the love Cal and Leon share. The book’s Epilogue is the icing on the cake for any reader in it for the romance. 

   Ultimately, the book comes to an end with Cal realizing that he doesn’t have to have all the answers and can feel free just to let things be. Though the reader sees Cal more comfortable in his new environment, on better terms with his parents, and generally more understanding of those around him, there are countless questions left unanswered. Stamper’s choice in ending the book perfectly encapsulates the message of the book, no one can truly know or control what is to come next in their lives. The reader is left in the same spot as Cal, truly satisfied with the possibilities of what may come. The novel is the perfect inspiration for teens battling perfectionism and lack of control on top of all the normal ins and outs of growing up. 

   The February 2021 Paperback edition also includes a bonus chapter that gives the reader a sneak peek into Cal’s future where he’s back in New York and has brought Leon along with him. Stamper’s writing again does a phenomenal job in painting an inspiring queer relationship to captivate the reader and provide answers to some of the questions which end the book. This bonus chapter also shows some resolution and growth in Cal’s friendship with Deb and illustrates a friendship that could test the tide. 

   This book is the perfect coming-of-age novel for readers of any age group. Capturing romance, hope, struggle, and growth, Stamper tells a unique story in such a way that is relatable and inspiring for readers of all communities, groups, and experiences. Though the book can feel like a rollercoaster of emotions, by the end the reader is left soaring on feelings of overwhelming joy.


* Photo courtesy of Phil Stamper via Twitter (@stampepk)