Sunday, November 25, 2007

Book #47 The Time It Takes to Fall by Margaret Lazarus Dean

The answer to the question is two minutes and forty-five seconds...the question is "How long did the Challenger astronauts fall, alive, to the earth".

The Time It Takes to Fall was recommended to me by a fellow teacher; she described it as a coming-of-age novel that takes place during the Challenger disaster in 1986. She thought I would be interested in it because everyone my age knows Challenger--it was the first major national tragedy in our memories.

The book is excellent. It's unassuming, just words written on a page to tell a story rather than trying to impress literary critics or prize committees or compete with bestsellers. It is purely story, and I loved every word of it. Delores, the main character, is 12-13 during the course of the book. Her father works for NASA and she wants to be an astronaut when she grows up. There were some parts that missed the mark--thoughts a teenager wouldn't logically think--but overall the novel is real and true to the last word.

The book also made me think about where I was on January 28, 1986. I know full where I was: in my fourth grade classroom at Cleveland Elementary in Fergus Falls. What I don't know, because I remember so little of that year, is why we did not watch the Challenger launch. I didn't see it. I don't remember any of the aftermath of it. I don't remember Regan's speech or any of the reports. I sometimes think that I'm the only person my age that wasn't sitting in a classroom in front of a television.

Or maybe I did see it, not live but at some point on the news, and filed it away in my "forget" drawer--where I put things from my childhood that I didn't quite know how to define at the time. If I could go back to one day in my life, I would choose that day. I want to know what I was doing when the shuttle exploded, why I didn't see it happen, what I thought about it. I remember thinking that Christa McAuliffe was beautiful, knowing she was a teacher. I remember hearing the jokes (which are, suitably, retold in the book by students to other students) and thinking they were both funny and horrible.

If you are a child of the 80s--not born in them, but truly a child of them--you will love this book. You will remember it be able to dust off your own memories of that time and place as you read an amazing story of a girl growing up, trying to hold her family together, falling in love, and questioning the mortality of others--still too young to contemplate her own.

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