A Complicated Love Story Set in Space, Shaun David Hutchinson (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers 978-1-534-44853-7, $19.99, 450 pp, hc) January 2021. Cover by Jon Contino.
A Complicated Love Story Set in Space starts with a bang when Noa wakes up in a space suit floating outside the ship Qriosity with no idea how he got there. Yep, he went to sleep in his bed and woke up in space! IT IS WILD! Then another teen, DJ, who is onboard the ship, speaks through his communicator, informing him the ship is about to explode and they are both going to die if they don’t figure out what is going on. From there it just keeps getting crazier until Noa dies, DJ saves him, they find another teen, Jenny, locked in a bathroom, the trio tries to figure out what is going on (were they kidnapped by aliens?) and the only help the ship gives them is a hologram who is 100% no Janet. (All hail The Good Place.)
As it turns out, Noa, DJ, and Jenny have little control of the Qriosity, especially the fact that every 19 hours it repositions itself in a new and random location in space. With little chance of getting home, DJ becomes determined to understand everything about the ship’s maintenance so he can at least keep it running. Meanwhile, Jenny resolves to figure out how they got there and Noa gets depressed and starts endlessly watching the bad small town drama which is, bizarrely, the only entertainment the ship’s library possesses. Eventually, he is cajoled into getting more involved in the Qriosity mystery, but as his friendship with DJ heats up into romance, a horrific experience from his past prevents him from committing. (Author Shaun David Hutchinson has a trigger warning for sexual assault in the book’s opening pages.) For a good chunk of the book, DJ is relentlessly patient, Noa is confused and sometimes petulant, and Jenny remains laser-focused on the mystery. Then a lot of things happen (including the sudden arrival of another teen who dies before anyone can figure out what is going on) before the Qriosity’s arrives next to a space school which is… well, let’s just say everyone learns a lot there while also becoming genuinely terrified for very good reason.
This book is all the plot you could ever want with some major twists, fabulous characters, a solid story of both love and friendship, and space travel! (My affection for well written YA space stories is truly boundless.) Hutchinson keeps readers guessing and, just when you think you have it all figured out, he throws in another unexpected plot element (hello, Groundhog Day). I cannot stress enough that this is an author who must be trusted. More than once, especially with DJ’s persistent devotion to Noa, I thought Hutchinson was laying it all on a bit too thick, but, although there is much I can not reveal here, I will say that everything, from the very earliest paragraphs, makes perfect sense as you close in on the ending. Not a word is wasted in this novel, and each chapter builds brilliantly on the ones that came before.
While A Complicated Love Story Set in Space is certainly a very successful romance, the fact that it takes place in space and includes a riveting mystery with thriller elements (an attack from an alien monster!) increases its appeal. Hutchinson rounds it all off with a suggestion for more adventures (but not a true cliffhanger), and I would certainly like to see more of this sharp-witted group in action. Clever, emotional, and packed with some wickedly fun moments, this is novel that any science fiction fan could love.
Colleen Mondor, Contributing Editor, is a writer, historian, and reviewer who co-owns an aircraft leasing company with her husband. She is the author of “The Map of My Dead Pilots: The Dangerous Game of Flying in Alaska” and reviews regularly for the ALA’s Booklist. Currently at work on a book about the 1932 Mt. McKinley Cosmic Ray Expedition, she and her family reside in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. More info can be found on her website: www.colleenmondor.com.
This review and more like it in the July 2021 issue of Locus.
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