Saturday, April 19, 2008

Greetings from planet Earth by Barbara Kerley - review

Greetings from planet Earth by Barbara Kerley
Wow. Greetings from Planet Deep is more like it. There is a LOT HERE, as you might guess from the Istvan Banyai illustrations on the outside: a moonscape with a skinny boy on the front and a helicopter in a tropical war zone on the back. It's a Vietnam home front novel. It's a space exploration novel. It's a dysfunctional family novel. But it is not a bummer novel - I feel it's important to express that up front.

It's 1977. The Vietnam War is over and the Voyager space probe is going up. Among the things that poor Theo has to deal with are:

  • absent father who has not come home from Vietnam
  • locked-down mother who won't talk about the father
  • bratty older sister
  • class assignment: select one photograph and tape one minute of audio that expresses what he thinks is most important about planet Earth
The class project is often a useful plot device. Your juvenile protagonist is forced to examine a topic which he or she might not ordinarily pay much attention to, and in the process, Important Lessons May Be Learned. Heck, it even happens in real life! This particular project drives Theo crazy. He is mad for space - his favorite birthday present is a lunar atlas - and he's a thinker too, so he is frustrated by his inability to encapsulate his feelings about humanity for the project.

As the book progresses, he learns more and more about his father, discovering a cache of letters home, reviewing the war coverage in LIFE magazine. Along the way, he forges a better relationship with his sister, cements things with his grandmother, and learns to accept the frailties of his mother. It's a very growing-up kind of book. There's a lot of examination of motive.

This makes Greetings from Planet Earth sound pretty sophisticated, and it is, but it's not off-putting, though the adult reader can come up with plenty of endings other than the hopeful one the author puts forth.

Theo's Sagan-esque answer to the class project question is wonderful, though: a clear-eyed assessment of humanity's better nature.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey, so glad you enjoyed the book!

Readers of your blog may be curious to know that I have some extension activities for the novel on my web page in the "For the Classroom" section:


Enjoy! Barb Kerley