Grace Carter’s mother — the celebrity news anchor GG Carter — is everything Grace is not. GG is a star, with a flawless wardrobe and a following of thousands, while Grace — an aspiring astrophysicist — is into stars of another kind. She and her mother have always been in different orbits.
Then one day GG is just … gone. Cameras descend on their house, news shows speculate about what might have happened and Grace’s family struggles to find a new rhythm as they wait for answers.
While the authorities unravel the mystery behind GG’s disappearance, Grace grows closer to her high school’s golden boy, Mylo, who has faced a black hole of his own. She also uncovers some secrets from her mother’s long-lost past. The more Grace learns, the more she wonders. Did she ever really know her mother? Was GG abducted … or did she leave? And if she left, why?
Warnings: abusive relationship, suicide mention, discussion of trauma and PTSD, mention of homelessness
A big theme in The Center of the Universe is the parts of people that we do not know, and it is explored in the mother-daughter relationship of GG and Grace. Grace’s mother is a broadcast journalist and her work frequently has her away from her kids’ lives, something that Grace resents. With her mother and grandmother both involved in being on-screen and their being public, Grace feels a disconnect with them with the astrophysicist aspirations and her need for privacy. When GG goes missing and the search for her continues beyond weeks, Grace slowly starts to learn about another side of her mother.
“We’re all made up of different versions of ourselves, Grace. Different parts that we outgrow or hang on to or hide.”
Drawing on complicated relationships daughters have with their mothers, the book shows through Grace how children often see their parents only in a singular role. Here, Grace only sees her mother as that, and resents her for not adequately fulfilling her role. She doesn’t realize her mother is also a person, someone who has things that they want, someone who is caught in a personal crisis about where their life is going. From a teenager’s point of view, it seems natural that she wants to be close to her mother, but from an adult’s point of view, you can see that she is also rejecting the efforts being made to bridge that gap (to the point that it sometimes comes across as bratty). I also feel this is a book that will be read very differently based on the reader’s own personal views and stage in life.
The book is being shelved as mystery on here, and yes, it is a mystery in the first half, as Grace and the police are trying to put the pieces together to find out what happened with GG’s disappearance, but it is not a ‘thriller’ kind of mystery; it isn’t the main attraction as with actual mystery novels. Instead, it is a slow building of Grace’s new worldview, where she realizes there are many sides to people, including her mother, and her friends’ parents. She finds a bond with Mylo, her friend and crush, who understands what it is like to be waiting for someone’s safe return, and to have a complicated relationship with one’s mother, and is her rock during this time. Grace and her best friend Iris also have a strong bond, but she feels Iris’ happy family life means she has no base to understand her own struggles.
Finally, the book does a good enough job of connecting Grace’s passion to her understanding of the world and of relationships. It is a good exploration of strained familial relationships, discusses abuse (and its effects on a person’s psyche) and also touches upon going with your passions in life at the cost of your future.
Received an advance reader copy in exchange for a fair review from Kids Can Press, via Netgalley.