The Time It Takes to Fall - Margaret Lazarus Dean

I thought of my space notebook at home in a desk drawer, its embarrassing pages packed with all the details and specifications of my uncoolness.

I found this book at the library and it immediately piqued my curiosity because of the Space Shuttle on the cover. Glancing inside, I saw that it was a coming-of-age story about a young girl growing up on the Space Coast, and involved the Challenger disaster. Having grown up on the Space Coast myself, I witnessed that Challenger launch too, and it occurred to me that I'd never seen any fiction that dealt with the subject before.

Dolores Gray is a seventh-grader in Palmetto Park. Her dad is a NASA technician, and she is obsessed with space. She tracks every launch in her notebook and dreams of one day becoming an astronaut. Eric Biersdorfer is the son of the Director of Launch Safety, and is the least popular kid in Dolores' class. She likes him, the way he doesn't care what others think of him, the way he seems to understand her; but she doesn't want to risk her friendship with the popular girls. After her father is laid off, however, her mother works at her to befriend Eric, in the hopes that their friendship would somehow get her father's job back. In the middle of this story about strained relationships and a teenage girl trying to figure out her own life, the Challenger tore apart, and the world changed.

Dean did an amazing amount of research to write this book, and a lot of it (particularly the technical details about the shuttles) is spot-on. Central to the book's themes are some disturbing revelations about the disaster which many people may not have known. Although the characters and events are fictionalized, there is a sense of reality and believability about it. (She has more information about her book at her website,

Her writing somehow manages to convey the thoughts and feelings of a thirteen-year-old girl, but with an adult's perspective and understanding. She states the motives behind her actions with much more clarity than a child could. Unfinished housework becomes a metaphor for her parents' failing marriage; the shuttle tragedy corresponds to her own loss of innocence.

However, there were little bits and quirks that didn't quite match up for me, mostly because I grew up there. I could tell that she hadn't grown up watching shuttle launches because her descriptions were off:

When I didn't go to see the launch, I looked outside for the bright vertical streak, too bright and fast and upright to be a plane.

The shuttle was so much bigger than a jet, and the rumble you felt after it took off was unmistakable. My first year in college in Boston, the T ran under my dorm, and every time it rumbled past I had an instinctive urge to run outside and look up. The day of the fateful Challenger launch, her class watches it on TV in the classroom, and only runs outside after the explosion. Apparently Dean had read an account of this somewhere, from somebody who lives in Christmas, Florida. But Dolores is supposed to be somewhere near Titusville, which is so close that it seems unlikely that they didn't just go outside whenever the shuttle launched. I was only nine at the time, but I remember standing out in the playground, wondering what happened.

Still, aside from these admittedly minor complaints, I was impressed with the book, with the way that Dean tied together the space program with her characters. Dolores' story, despite being quite different from my own, took me back to 1986 and the Space Coast, and the shock of seeing that deformed Y hanging in the sky.

Fed to jonathan's brain | March 07, 2008 | Comments (0)


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