An 11 year old boy, Alex, lives with his mother in Colorado. His mother has "quiet" days when she doesn't feel well enough to leave the house, and Alex takes responsibility for doing the cooking and shopping for both of them. Alex is in love with the idea of rockets and space travel, and he saves money from his job helping at a gas station to buy a train ticket to New Mexico so he can attend a amateur rocket launch. He manages to travel with his dog, Carl Segan. At the convention he makes friends with two college guys, who, when they discover he has traveled alone, take him under their wing. After the launch, Alex receives word that his father might be alive and living in Las Vegas. Alex and the two college guys start a wild road trip in search of answers about Alex's family.
This is an interesting book. It is written as a series of recordings that Alex makes on his "golden I-Pod" (a reference to the golden record sent in the Mars probe). Cheng writes them as a kind of "stream of experience" where anything that might have been picked up in a live recording is written into the narrative. It feels raw, unfiltered, and achingly realistic. The thing that saves that book from being too "raw" is that Alex, although he has been terribly neglected by a non-functional family, has a really buoyant and likeable personality. Terrible things happen, and he bounces back and looks on the bright side. I listened to the book on recording. It is produced with a full cast and with sound effects. I am pretty sure this one will be a candidate for the Odyssey award (for best recorded books) this year.