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Chasing the Milky Way

Review

Chasing the Milky Way

All 12-year-old Lucille Peevey has ever dreamed of is escaping Sunnyside Trailer Park and finding a better life for her, her little sister Izzy, and her Mama, who suffers from severe manic-depressive disorder. Lucy and her best friend Cam have been spending all their time saving up money and building a robot to compete in BotBlock, a yearly robotics competition that Lucy wants to win, especially since there is a huge pot of prize money for the winner. But as the time to travel to the coast for the competition nears, her Mama starts becoming more and more unhinged, and it is slowly revealed that she has stopped taking her medication in recent weeks for a mysterious reason.

Sparked by an incident between Lucy, Cam and a bully at school, Mama is pushed past her limits, running away from the cops and social services with the three kids in tow. They later steal an RV and begin making their tumultuous journey towards BotBlock, but not before being held up by many obstacles and coming to terms with the reality of their family’s problems. Lucy, at the center, struggles to remain in control, but she might have to be pushed past her breaking point and learn harsh lessons in order to figure out how to take care of herself and those around her.  And in the end, things don’t turn out as bad as one would expect.

I hope that readers root for the characters as much as I did

CHASING THE MILKY WAY successfully showcases the unstoppable destruction of mental illness when left untreated.  And this destruction is expertly reported from a child’s point of view, bringing to light the raw pain of watching someone you love dissolve into something unrecognizable. Lucy’s actions and reactions are believable throughout the whole story, and she is a strong character whom many readers will like. Cam is also a great companion to Lucy, showing how one can become tough through kindness, by always having a positive attitude despite being from a broken home. What I loved about that was its surprising honesty. Most people expect kids from bad homes to have issues, but that isn’t always true. Cam is a fantastic example of all those kids who just want to hold on to happiness and who hope that everything is going to get better tomorrow because there is always a chance that it will.

One issue I had with CHASING THE MILKY WAY was that the author only used science analogies to describe the protagonist’s internal thoughts. At first this was cute, but then it became tedious. I also didn’t understand why in the second half of the book, all of the similes and metaphors were space-related ---  Lucy is interested in robotics and machinery, not outer space. To me, this would have been much more logical (and less overwhelming), if Lucy had wanted to go to a camp at NASA.

I also felt that CHASING THE MILKY WAY left a significant subplot dangling. As I mentioned, near the beginning of the book, Lucy becomes involved in an incident with a bully that leaves him decently injured. Though Lucy did not purposely hurt the boy, it still would be a big deal if something like that happened in real life. But it is never mentioned again, which was weird considering the bully was brought up multiple times during the first quarter of the book. Even just one sentence at the end would have sufficed.

Lastly, while Lucy understands the severity of her mother’s condition throughout the whole book, at the end, she acts in a way that dangerously wobbles back and forth on the line between trying to find the positives in her situation and outright romanticizing mental illness. Readers who have family members or friends with a similar condition to the mother might find this insensitive, so I would keep that in mind.

Overall, CHASING THE MILKY WAY is part dossier on children living in subpar home environments and part wonderful case study on how mental illness affects every day people. Though the pacing lagged at points, I still found the book intriguing, the characters solid and the elements about robotics and science unique ---I found myself caring for quite a lot. Moulton has created a story that will hopefully inspire readers to thoroughly consider the lives of those living with mental illness and treat them with great compassion, understanding and patience, because it is no easy task. I hope that readers root for the characters as much as I did and cheer for their dreams as much as they worked to achieve their own.

Reviewed by Corinne Fox on June 20, 2014

Chasing the Milky Way
by Erin E. Moulton

  • Publication Date: June 12, 2014
  • Genres: Young Adult 12+
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Philomel
  • ISBN-10: 0399164499
  • ISBN-13: 9780399164491