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Tessa , Palmers Green High School

Sputnik's Guide to Life on Earth

When I first picked up ‘Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth’, I did not think that the book would be one that was a serious contender to win the Carnegie award because, having read ‘Cosmic’ by the same author and being told by others that the book was more suitable for younger readers, I was of the opinion that it was a book that was going to set the plot out in a silly or mildly insensitive way, and slightly haphazardly slip in the main issue of the book somewhere in between the mad-hatter events of the book. Having read ‘Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth’, I now believe that I was too judgemental and that this book is a serious competitor for the Carnegie Medal.
Unlike the books I read for the Carnegie shadowing last year, the issue (in this case dealing with dementia and losing a home and family) was presented in a very subtle way, but it still tore out my heart and I almost cried out of sympathy for the narrator. The narrator is a young boy of about 11, although his age is never openly stated, called Prez. He encounters an alien called Sputnik who appears to Prez as a young boy but appears to other people (bar one) as a dog; however, no one can quite agree on the breed of dog, so Sputnik can never be identified in any of his wildly dangerous shenanigans.
The issue dealt with in ‘Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth’ is mainly centred on Prez’s grandfather, who has dementia, and Prez’s inability to cope and understand what is happening. It also deals with identity issues, but not in the conventional manner of the phrase: ‘Who am I?’, but rather: ‘Why can I not remember who I am?’ What really tugged at my heartstrings was that Prez never fully understood that he was in care, or that he was never going to be able to live with his grandfather again despite others in the book, including a girl far younger than Prez, recognising that fact. I believe this is because Prez’s world view is simpler. He does live in the same world but his understanding of it is different and that is why both he (and the other person) can see Sputnik as the little cutsy alien that he is and not a dog.
It is never stated what happened to Prez’s parents or where they are when the book takes place, but I did notice that Prez and Sputnik had many similarities, like having no secure home or family and being able to perceive the world differently. This book made me laugh and cry, mainly at Sputnik’s childish way of thinking and his ‘unique’ take on physics, but also made me realise that if I had read this book a few years ago, I would not have recognised the issue that the book is based on: identity. I recommend this book to readers of all ages, not only to the younger readers who will love Sputnik and his quirky nature, but also to older readers so they can lose their more detailed perspective of the world, and look at it through Prez’s eyes.

Posted on: 18th April 2017 at 02:53 pm

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