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Reviews of Space

“Novelist Jesse Lee Kercheval’s sentences are so precise, her portrait of her troubled family so compelling, her description of children’s complex social maneuvering so astute, that it takes a while to realize that her tender memoir of growing up in Cocoa, Florida, is also a masterful snapshot of America in the late 1960s. The family moved from Washington, D.C., to Florida in 1966 because Kercheval’s father had accepted a position as business manager of the local junior college, his ticket to a decent civilian career after 30 years in the army. The author’s mother, who loved her job at the Treasury Department, was less enthusiastic; during their years in Cocoa she drifted deeper and deeper into depression. Without writing a dogmatic word, Kercheval paints a painful picture of a woman agonizingly frustrated by being denied the employment opportunities her intelligence merited. Older sister Carol responded by becoming the responsible one, trying to make everything better; Jesse dreamed of going far enough and fast enough to become a new and better person. So why is the book entitled Space? Well, Cape Canaveral was only miles from Cocoa, but to appreciate the superbly woven web of fact, metaphor, and dreams that makes the space program so central here, you’ll have to read Kercheval’s beautiful book.”
Wendy Smith, Amazon.com

“With remarkable detail, Kercheval writes of growing up in Florida near Cape Kennedy. The rumble of rockets punctuates her encounters with boys, alcohol and other drugs, prejudice, a mother on valium, friendships, and other facets of life. In school she sees a film called The Wonderful Thing That Is Going To Happen to You Once a Month, and at the Cape she sees ‘Gus Grissom’s sad dog-brown eyes’ shortly before Grissom is killed. Her family slowly disintegrates, much like the space program, but just as man reaches the moon, she and her sister survive. The space program appears only as a thematic device. This is a lively coming-of-age tale, the creation of a personal space. Eventually Kercheval discovers that her childhood penchant for lying could turn a profit—she became a successful writer and professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.”
Library Journal

. . . a devastatingly honest, relentlessly unsentimental portrait of her childhood . . . a quietly powerful personal history.”
The New York Times Book Review

“A story of the 60s and 70s as seen through the eyes of a bright and introspective girl. As the book begins, the 40-year-old author describes the family photos she has just received from her sister. From here, she takes readers back to her childhood and to her family’s move to the Cape Canaveral area of Florida in 1966. The space program was in full gear and Jesse was caught up in the excitement. The space race, Vietnam, poverty, women’s rights, the drug culture, Cuban refugees, civil rights, and divorce all touched Jesse’s life, and she skillfully handles her evolving perceptions. At 10, she was a keen observer but did not always understand the whys of a situation. At 16, she understood her family’s difficulties all too well. Her mother’s sacrifices for her husband, including having to give up a job she loved because of the move, caused disappointment to turn into depression and her doctor prescribed valium just as the young people in the neighborhood began to dabble in and deal illegal drugs. Jesse’s sister tried to hold the family together. It could not be done; but all was not lost. Life limped on. Kercheval’s narrative style artfully takes readers through the years with Jesse, enabling them to view situations as she did as she matured. Space is a family’s coming-of-age story.”
Publisher’s Weekly.

“A sweetly honest memoir of a girl growing up amid the glare of the rocket launches from Cape Canaveral, Fla. Kercheval’s father, a West Point graduate who left the army rather than serve in Vietnam, moved his family from Washington, D.C., to Cocoa, Fla., when the author was 10 years old. This was the setting of her adventurous mother’s ultimate collapse from too much Valium and bourbon and of novelist Kercheval’s fascination with the nearby space center’s early sorties to the moon. Her memories themselves were launched by a shoeboxful of family snapshots sent by her sister Carol, two years her senior and the one who, throughout their childhood, kept the sentimental flame of family burning. It’s Carol who demands, typically, ‘that we . . . put up a Christmas tree, [and] eat in the dining room at Thanksgiving,’ and who urgently reminds her sister on other occasions that ‘we don’t do things like that.’ ‘Things like that’ range from not wearing shoes when they go out to play to drugs and alcohol (at 16). Jesse meanwhile falls out of a treehouse, has to do time in a body-brace and a wheelchair, and confronts racism and menstruation. Also on her agenda of challenges are sex, drugs, death, the meaning of life, and most of all, the race to the moon. Eventually, ‘one by one,’ the whole family gets dispersed--Carol to teach, the flower-child author to wed, and her father to seek a divorce, leaving her drugged-out mother behind. Rising to the occasion, though, the mother drops her Valium and booze to remarry the author’s father--just as Kercheval herself is getting a divorce and starting a new life. A . . . coming-of-age story punctuated by the romance and thunder of rockets entering space.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Never has the space program been so charmingly brought down to earth than by this utterly beguiling girl. . . .  I was fascinated, enchanted, edified, and moved.”
Gish Jen

“The girlhood Jesse Lee Kercheval describes in this open hearted memoir resonates memorably for the woman of our generation. Space is moon shots juxtaposed with Astronaut Fruit Cake-flavored first kisses.”
Andrea Barrett