TAKING OFF by Jenny Moss

I remember sitting in my dad’s car one January afternoon in 1986, listening to the radio news of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster and feeling like it was impossible, like it couldn’t really have happened. But it did.

And so I knew how the story of the shuttle launch would end before I opened this book ~

Somehow, I ended up gasping when it happened all the same.

TAKING OFF is about a girl named Annie, a high school senior growing up in a community of NASA engineers but worshipping words instead of numbers, colors instead of computations. She wants to be a poet but sees that dream and college as completely out of reach until serendipity drops her at a dinner party in the seat next to Christa McAuliffe. 

McAuliffe, the New Hampshire teacher chosen for NASA’s teacher-in-space program, exudes an energy that Annie can almost touch, so different from her own guarded outlook on life.  Inspired by McAuliffe’s charisma, drive, and infectious zest for life, Annie vows she’ll be there for the launch. She sets the wheels in motion for a road trip to Florida with her father and a handsome young friend of his, which doesn’t sit well with Annie’s long-time boyfriend, Mark.

What happens on that trip – in her father’s broken-down art-car, at Epcot, on the beach, and ultimately on a cold morning at Cape Canaveral, will change everything Annie thought she knew.

This book made me laugh and cry. It made me sigh with some of the most beautifully written passages, and it made me think about the connections that art and poetry share with math and science. As a writer married to a weather geek scientist, I particularly appreciated the bridges this book builds between the two.

But mostly, I was swept up in the emotion of this coming-of-age story.
I knew what was going to happen. I did.

But that didn’t stop me from crying.  It didn’t stop me from feeling everything Annie felt when the shuttle exploded.  I might as well have been there with her, watching a teacher’s dream of flying in space come true, then end in cloud of white smoke in a blue sky in a matter of minutes. It didn’t matter that I knew. Not one bit.

That, my friends, is great writing. 

TAKING OFF is due out from Walker/Bloombury in January 2011.