Do You Dream of Terra-Two?
by Temi Oh
544pp (Trade Paperback)
My Rating: 7/10
Amazon Rating: 3.9/5
LibraryThing Rating: 3.27/5
Goodreads Rating: 3.7/5

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Book Description:

An NPR favorite book of 2019
Winner of the ALA/YALSA Alex Award

When an Earth-like planet is discovered, a team of six teens, along with three veteran astronauts, embark on a twenty-year trip to set up a planet for human colonization—but find that space is more deadly than they ever could have imagined.

Have you ever hoped you could leave everything behind?
Have you ever dreamt of a better world?
Can a dream sustain a lifetime?

A century ago, an astronomer discovered an Earth-like planet orbiting a nearby star. She predicted that one day humans would travel there to build a utopia. Today, ten astronauts are leaving everything behind to find it. Four are veterans of the twentieth century’s space-race.

And six are teenagers who’ve trained for this mission most of their lives.

It will take the team twenty-three years to reach Terra-Two. Twenty-three years locked in close quarters. Twenty-three years with no one to rely on but each other. Twenty-three years with no rescue possible, should something go wrong.

And something always goes wrong.

Note: You may want to read this review on the website instead of by email or feed reader. There are spoiler tags that should be hidden on the website but may be visible elsewhere. (Although I do not consider this line to be specific enough to be a big spoiler, I hid it because it references something that doesn’t come up until closer to the end of the book.)

Before reading Do You Dream of Terra-Two?, Temi Oh’s debut novel, I had heard that it was mainly about the characters and had seen some disappointment that there wasn’t more focus on the science fiction aspects. That didn’t deter me one bit since characterization tends to be my favorite part of reading, but to my surprise, the characters were easily the part I found least compelling. I was more intrigued by the ideas and scenarios Temi Oh explored in this story, and the speculative aspects were what I appreciated most about her novel.

Despite the fact that something does indeed go wrong as mentioned in the book description, Do You Dream of Terra-Two? is not really an adventure story. It mainly focuses on the 30 hours before the space launch and the next several months in space, and a lot is left open-ended since it closes about a year into the 23-year journey. It does not end abruptly with characters hanging on the brink of disaster or anything like that, but it does open up some questions for speculation that are left unanswered. Personally, I enjoyed that, but I wanted to mention this since I don’t know whether or not a sequel is planned.

Do You Dream of Terra-Two? is a difficult to define book since it explores a lot, but what stood out to me most was the love for learning and the sciences that permeated its pages. I particularly appreciated that Temi Oh set this story in a setting very similar to our own in 2012, the year the space launch happened, but with one difference: space exploration is far more advanced, and several space programs have been vying to be the first to send a crew to a planet that could become a new home for humanity.

Though this version of Earth has many of the same problems as ours—like climate change, a major reason people are so eager to settle on a new planet—this divergence from our own makes it feel like a more optimistic place. This is in part because this story follows people who loved their respective fields and the idea of space exploration enough to succeed in a grueling academic program, but it also seems like the world in general has more respect for education and knowledge.

Through the perspectives of the six astronauts, aged 18–19 at the time of the launch, it shows how study and aptitude tests can’t determine whether or not someone is truly cut out for such a mission: they can’t foresee how someone will react when suddenly faced with the unexpected, and they don’t take into account all the variables of how a group of people with different personalities, backgrounds, and internal crises will (or won’t) work together. It seemed to be largely about the messiness of humanity, and the large range of our capabilities from our very best to our very worst.

There is a strong sense of wonder that comes through the crew’s dreams of Terra-Two and the new society they might create, but it’s not all glorious with tragedy occurring shortly before the space launch. Loss, grief, and change add additional obstacles to their mission from the very beginning, and though they still experience intense feelings about the marvels of being in space, they also soon discover that as long as everything goes as planned, much of life on a spaceship is kind of…dull. The routine, the not-so-thrilling meals while waiting for food grown via hydroponics, being stuck with the same nine people in a confined area, having nowhere else to go and no real concept of “day” anymore quickly grows stale. Their communications specialist deals with depression, which is not just difficult for her but also for the small crew depending on her to do a job, and boredom just adds fuel to the flames of conflicts. (And there are some dramatic conflicts!)

Yet I found the idea of throwing these six different people together more engaging than the individuals themselves. Their third-person perspectives were perfectly readable and even included some lovely prose at times, but I found the details of their world, the past, and everyday life in space more engaging than the characters themselves since they didn’t seem all that fleshed out to me. A couple of them did have decent arcs—especially Astrid, who literally dreamed of Terra-Two just like the woman who discovered it—but their actual development seemed rushed. There was a pattern of them dealing with a problem only to have their actual growth brushed away as the story changed focus, which could have also been due to the sheer amount these characters were dealing with and that it touched on a lot: death, depression, trying to belong and finding one’s place, an eating disorder, religion and spirituality, and past family trauma.

Although I found the characterization underwhelming, there were a lot of other aspects of Do You Dream of Terra-Two? that stood out to me. It seemed different given the amount covered in this story with its collection of people and problems and its focus on their lives and journey rather than one big arc that was neatly tied up. It didn’t present a clear picture of the characters, the academy, and the space program from the beginning but parceled information as it became relevant, which meant learning new things that didn’t feel like huge revelations all the way up to the end. And even though it showed the mundane side of space travel, I found dreaming of the possibilities for this new world more wondrous than many adventures set in far-flung corners of the universe—a story that seemed like a prelude to these and what could be.

My Rating: 7/10

Where I got my reading copy: I purchased it.