The Gravity of Us by Phil Stamper Book Review

I look back at my reading experience of The Gravity of Us puzzled. Was I in a bad mood starting it, and did that transcend to the rest? I’ve given a lot of negative reviews recently, so maybe I should look into that. It is unprofessional of an entertainment critic to let your personal troubles impact a separate work of art by a hard-working artist. And so many of my favourite authors have shown their love for this story. At the end of the day, the best I can do to justify my opinion is to explain what I didn’t like and what I did like.

Taking place in a summer of 2020 without the pandemic (but you can’t blame Stamper for being unable to predict it while writing this book a few years back) or talk of Trump’s reelection (even though it’s briefly discussed he is still the president in this parallel universe), Calvin Lewis Jr. is a vlogger…actually, know, he’s a journalist. Vlogger wouldn’t do justice to what he’s truly capable of. Cal, as he likes to be called, does not just talk about what he’s having for his next meal or drama around his friends. He’s doing his best to blow the doors off political corruption. If he’s still in school while also doing this, he sure as heck works hard. Thanks to his hard work and hundreds of thousands of followers, he was one time able to change the outcome of an election. If that isn’t impressive enough, he’s not paid for his efforts. He doesn’t paste ads or sponsorships. He’s not sure where he wants to go for college, but he knows independent reporting is his future. No one does what he does so passionately with no compensation unless the industry is his true dream.

But one day his father, Calvin Lewis Sr., a pilot who pitched his resumé in to a NASA mission to fly to Mars, finally gets a response in the mail, indicating he is one of a tiny handful of applicants to become an astronaut. This means his entire family is moving down to Texas where the mission will be taking place, their entire life spontaneously uprooted. A media company called StarWatch who may be calling themselves reporters but certainly like to stretch things for television, are one of the many organizations in the media now focused on his and every other family. Cal at least didn’t have to leave a boyfriend behind. He’d broken up with his not too long ago. His social media following he’s worried about briefly but realizes with everyone paying attention to the mission, changing gears shouldn’t be too hard. And he ends up getting the hots for the sons of one of the most prominent astronauts.

Phil Stamper talks about how he grew up fascinated with the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo projects, and the lives of the astronauts and their families being made such a big deal. He also wanted to grow up with a gay kid like him being represented in one of those stories. He definitely had inspiration for writing this book. The talk about this being an obvious LGBT story from the gorgeously drawn cover art is actually a good way to open in some things that are strangely flawed.

You know, before I realized my own sexuality, one of the main reasons I really shipped homosexual couples in books was they tended to have way more than just lust. The best romance stories, in my opinion, are ones where the lovebirds originally weren’t looking for or expecting romance, at least to begin with, and gradually realize how maybe there’s a chance their true love is not who they used to envision. A heterosexual couple that I think is a perfect example of this is Marianne and Bog from the criminally underrated animated movie, Strange Magic. Neither were looking for love and neither were ever expecting love from someone of the opposing lands. They opened each other up. Same goes for the heterosexual Elloren and Yvan from The Black Witch or the homosexual Alek and Ethan from One Man Guy. Romance stories about two people fighting the insecurities of the world to protect their love is the best way to do it, in my view.

Now back to Cal and Leon, who do fall under some of those romance ideals. They are adorable, they’re exemplarily sweet, they bring out the best in each other, and if things are rough, they hear one another out. They’re goals. But one complaint I have is the development of their relationship often feels as plain as a typical male and female couple. We are still living in an age where it’s the default to assume people, unless known otherwise, are into the opposite sex, and it can be hard to confess to anyone about being deviant from the majority, especially in Texas. Leon one day ends up flat-out asking Cal if he wants to kiss him during a conversation, and I never found anything that suggested either person knew prior the other was homosexual. Cal swoons over Leon early on, but most gay people try to not fantasize too much until they know for sure they might be willing to give them a chance. The biggest disappointment of The Gravity of Us, for me, was for a queer book, there are almost no actual queer themes.

The excitement factor of the space mission was on and off. The book always following Cal, he loves talking about the challenges of staying hot and relevant but sometimes we’re more interested in what Cal’s getting ready to talk about rather than his long preparation process before going in front of the camera. I also wished we could have learned more about Cal’s ex, Jeremy. He’s brought up as a commenter on his videos and such, but never reappears or is brought up again. We also never get any juicy backstories for how Cal and Leon learned who they were and how to accept it. I also wished for more emotional backstory towards why Leon was in the depression he was struggling with.

The best parts of the book arrive when we dig deeper into StarWatch and Cal does what he can to expose corruption or cruelty. Something I hope readers take away is to not be afraid to do the right thing and tell the world when something’s wrong. Though I wish there was more, the book also has a few personal attacks sent against Cal that were really haunting, because they reminded me of when I’ve seen role models I look up to being attacked by a corporation trying to discredit them to save profits. These attacks definitely make it so this is a book that understands in journalism, there are going to be enemies in the comments and out on the battlefield.

I also enjoyed Cal’s slow transition into liking his new neighbourhood, and not just because of Leon. I liked when something unexpected came up in the mission and I liked messages coming up on how social media shouldn’t dictate one’s life. The Gravity of Us is not a bad book by any means. How I’d put it is, it’s like a sundae with not enough sauce or sprinkles. It tastes delicious, but also tastes like what it could have been.

If you like this, I’d try One Man Guy by Michael Barakiva, the quite funny Space Force TV show, and the heart-wrenching documentary Challenger: The Final Flight

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