Clues to the Universe is the debut novel from Christina Li. This middle grade historical fiction novel takes place in the 1980’s but truly feels timeless. Ro and Benji are two characters that definitely will stick with me.

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The summary, from Amazon:

This #ownvoices debut about losing and finding family, forging unlikely friendships, and searching for answers to big questions will resonate with fans of Erin Entrada Kelly and Rebecca Stead.

The only thing Rosalind Ling Geraghty loves more than watching NASA launches with her dad is building rockets with him. When he dies unexpectedly, all Ro has left of him is an unfinished model rocket they had been working on together.

Benjamin Burns doesn’t like science, but he can’t get enough of Spacebound, a popular comic book series. When he finds a sketch that suggests that his dad created the comics, he’s thrilled. Too bad his dad walked out years ago, and Benji has no way to contact him.

Though Ro and Benji were only supposed to be science class partners, the pair become unlikely friends, and Ro even figures out a way to reunite Benji and his dad. But Benji hesitates, which infuriates Ro. Doesn’t he realize how much Ro wishes she could be in his place?

As the two face bullying, grief, and their own differences, Benji and Ro try to piece together clues to some of the biggest questions in the universe.

Buy Clues to the Universe here.

Ro and Benji are two unlikely friends when Ro starts the new year at Benji’s school. Ro’s father died in a car accident, and she’s switched schools for a new start. Ro and Benji are as different as can be. She loves science, particularly surrounding space and rocket science, and Benji is an artist struggling in the subject. Benji’s father walked out when he was young, but he’s figured out that he’s the creator of his favorite comic, Spacebound. When Ro and Benji become lab partners, they make a promise after finding out what it is that the other is so focused on. Benji will help her get to the science fair with the rocket Ro started building with her dad before he passed away. Ro will help Benji find his dad.
Clues to the Universe was such a memorable story for me. There are a few references (especially about NASA missions) that clearly place it in the 80’s, but it feels pretty timeless. I loved the friendship between Benji and Ro. They way they were bullied and their reactions to it were so relatable to me. So many times in books bullying is just a little teasing or it’s full-blown terror, which sadly some kids deal with. But I think most of us have been bullied in our lives, and it’s usually through cruel-hearted pranks that the bully doesn’t even really understand the impact of. I loved that Ro stood up to her bully, even if the consequences weren’t good, and that Benji had learned to ignore it. Eventually, especially through major character growth on Benji’s part, they wind up having opposite reactions.
I also enjoyed that Benji spent so much time thinking his father was a superhero only to realize that the ladies in his life were the real superheroes in his life. I would have loved this book as a middle grade reader and as an adult it was still so enjoyable. Clues to the Universe was a 5 star read for me.

Find out more about how I rate books here.

Clues to the UniverseClues to the Universe by Christina Li
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Clues to the Universe takes place during the 80’s but feels so timeless. I loved the friendship between Benji and Ro. I also felt the representation of bullying and Benji and Ro’s reactions to it were so relatable.

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Book Club Questions

  1. How are Benji and Ro different?
  2. What do Benji and Ro have in common at the beginning of the novel? How about towards the middle and end?
  3. Why do you think Benji has some difficulty forming a relationship with his father?
  4. How are Benji and Ro’s father situations similar? How are they different?
  5. Why does Ro want to help Benji find his dad so badly?


Interested? Buy Clues to the Universe.
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