Planet Earth is Blue by Nicole Panteleakos
First Line: Bridget was gone. And Nova was broken.
Summary: In this historical middle grade novel, Planet Earth is Blue follows twelve-year-old Nova, who is autistic and nonverbal, as she adjusts to a new foster family. Nova and her older sister Bridget both love astronomy, but when Bridget goes missing, Nova eagerly counts down the days until the space shuttle Challenger launches, which Bridget promised they would watch together.
This story is really heartwarming. I loved seeing Nova become friends with her special education peers and feel more at home with her foster family. Though Nova is nonverbal, Panteleakos richly conveys Nova’s inner world through her letters to Bridget and flashbacks depicting their relationship. Each letter followed a regular chapter, giving insight into Nova’s thoughts and actions, and the flashbacks intermingled throughout the book perfectly capturing the tone and Nova’s emotions.
Nova and Bridget’s strong relationship made me eager to read what happened, as well as Nova just being a great character. She is deeply imaginative and passionate about space.
The narrative also always treats Nova with respect, and her autism is never framed as weird or a punchline. Panteleakos is autistic herself, and she crafts a sensitive, nuanced depiction. She makes it impossible not to care about Nova.
This book is written beautifully. Its prose is simple but well-crafted. References to space, David Bowie’s lyrics, and The Little Prince are interwoven throughout the book and add depth to the story. All of this builds to heartrending climax and ending. It broke my heart but also filled it with hope.
Planet Earth is Blue is a heartwarming story about finding strength and hope in the midst of tragedy, and Nova is the kind of character that will live in readers’ hearts long after the book is finished.