“There’s No Basketball on Mars” by Craig Leener

“There’s No Basketball on Mars” by Craig Leener 171 265 Reader Views Kids

There’s No Basketball on Mars

Craig Leener
Green Buffalo Press (2022)
ISBN: 978-0990548980
Reviewed by Kristina Turner for Reader Views (05/2023)

Sherman, what if I told you that everything you’ve ever been taught in school about the history of space travel to Mars was, shall we say, a bit inaccurate?

Sherman “Lawrence” Tuckerman was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at the age of four; his pediatric neurologist calls him high-functioning and says he has rare savant syndrome. Lawrence hates to be touched. He hates questions. He never lies. And he hates to talk. He has two best friends, a kind, single dad, and a disassembled 1965 Chevrolet Fleetside short-bed pickup truck. He plans to drive the truck to Kansas when he turns sixteen in 91 days to visit one of his best friends. Hopefully, he can reassemble it before he gets his driver’s license. Strangely, despite his savant memory, he can’t remember why he disassembled the truck. He loves Bazooka Joe bubble gum, playing chess, basketball, and Mars. One day a government agent walks into his living room and offers him his dream job – an astronaut headed to Mars. There’s just one catch: he must be ready for lift-off in one week.

“There’s No Basketball on Mars” by Craig Leener is a companion book to his Zeke Archer Basketball Trilogy, but it works just fine as a standalone novel. The book is narrated by Lawrence, and Leener takes great care and compassion with the autistic voice. As such, the young adult audience is invited into a greater understanding of a person with a neuro-divergent view of the world. Throughout the novel, Leener shows Lawrence’s growth in overcoming his anxieties and reticence to connect with others as he works to achieve his dreams. Leener’s skill in characterization makes the novel engaging and interesting. The characters are clear, interesting, and (mostly) likable, though not all that deep (it is middle-grade to YA-focused, after all). Leener also paces the book well. The chapters are short, and the story isn’t burdened by describing days and days of uneventful space travel. A subtle mystery adds an interesting subplot and ties the novel to the preceding trilogy. In the end, astronaut Lawrence’s understanding of basketball as well as mathematics is necessary to save the day. 

However much I liked it, though, I felt distracted by the story’s premise. Certainly, science fiction requires a reader to suspend disbelief, but in this case, I found that suspension was difficult. The idea that the US government would send 2 children and a washed-up astronaut on a super-secret, one-shot-only, expensive mission to Mars was not for me. Still, that’s often the sort of crazy tale that appeals to teen and pre-teen boy readers. I’m sure this would hit the nail on the head for the intended audience.

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