Historical Fiction Set During the Space Race: Baby Rocket by Stephanie Smith Book Review

Historical Fiction Set During the Space Race: Baby Rocket by Stephanie Smith Book Review

I received this book for free from Publisher for review consideration, opinions expressed are 100% my own. This post contains affiliate links as indicated by an asterisk. Purchases from these links provides a small commission to me at no extra cost to you.

Baby Rocket by Stephanie A. Smith
Published by Thames River Press
Publication Date: June 15, 2013
Genres: Contemporary, Fiction, Historical
Pages: 232
Format: eBook
Source: Publisher

Synopsis from Goodreads:

“Baby Rocket” is the name of a child who, in 1966, was abandoned by her suicidal mother and later found by a policeman in the seat of a children’s rocket ride on Cape Canaveral. The novel is the story of this child’s (Clementine Dance) adulthood discovery of an abandonment she does not remember, and how she comes to terms with it and her past.

Upon her father’s sudden death in Santa Monica during the summer of 1998, Clementine “Lem” Dance finds a file about a “Baby Rocket” on his computer. The file suggests she is Baby Rocket but she’s never heard the name; and her late father, a former NASA employee, James Walter Dance, Jr., had been prone to romantic white lies – he claimed he once met Marilyn Monroe, for example. The file on “Baby Rocket” seems crazy and yet all too real: it contains Lem’s birth certificate, a document which shows that her father was not her biological but rather her adoptive father and emails that show he’d been in contact with her birth mother’s surviving family – as if he’d been on the verge of telling the truth.

These upheavals force Lem to retrace her parents’ lives and to re-examine her own; to get in touch with her mother’s family; and, above all, to try to remember Baby Rocket. Before her discovery, she’d felt she knew herself. Afterwards, even her own “jet-age” nickname “Lem” – or LEM, for the Lunar Excursion Module – seems like a bad joke: once a symbol of hopeful futurity for her, given that she shares her name with an historical emblem of technological progress, the name only serves to remind her of a past she doesn’t recognize. Such a journey takes her across the landscape of late 20th-century America, both geographically – from California to Cape Canaveral – and in time, in memory. As she pieces together the forgotten “Baby Rocket,” she re-inhabits the culture and dreams of the 1950s and 1960s, a time, a place and a vision that shaped her parents and herself.”

My Thoughts:

The main character, Clementine (Lem) Miracle Dance, has a name that signifies mercy, hope and art but her childhood was far from beautiful. An “accident” she cannot recall leaves her motherless and earns her the media name of “Baby Rocket.” The father that raised her was a NASA employee and when he passes, she finds out that he is not her biological father. The childhood she knows suddenly comes into question and she’s determined to find the truth about her past.

What I enjoyed about the book was that Lem’s childhood took place during the great Space Race. As a kid, I was fascinated by astronomy and wanted to be an astronaut when I grew up. I dreamed of going to Space Camp. In the story, Lem is a historian writing about NASA’s female astronauts and I enjoyed learning about their role in NASA. As a child in the 80’s, I remember how exciting it was to have a teacher on board the Challenger and how heartbreaking it was when the shuttle exploded. I enjoy historical fiction and Baby Rocket covered a different time period than I had read about before.

Secondary to the Space Race was Lem’s dad’s infatuation with Marilyn Monroe. A Hollywood icon her dad claimed to have met. I enjoyed how Lem got to know her dad a little better as she searched for the truth about her mother’s death.

The story revolves around Lem trying to find the truth. They found her nearby her mother’s dead body. How come she couldn’t remember what happened? She must have witnessed it. Lem meets people along the way to help uncover the truth, slowly but surely. This is where the story started to drag for me. Except for Lem, I didn’t connect to the characters in the story. I felt like they were all kind of shady and I really couldn’t be sure what their motives were in the decisions they made. The end finally came but then it felt rushed and wrapped up quickly. Thankfully, the ending was good and Lem found the answers she sought, it saved me from being disappointed.

Overall the story was interesting and different than anything else I had read. If you like historical fiction, try it out and let me know what you think.


Book Club Questions: 

I think this would make a good book for discussion because of the family issues it brings up. It might bring a mixed reaction, some who will love it and others who won’t. Here are some discussion questions that this book made me think about, feel free to print up the list or answer in the comments, whether you have read this book or not.

1. What would you do if you found out you were adopted? Would you look for your birth parents?

2. Do you remember what you were doing when the Challenger exploded? Why is it we often remember where we were when we find out about a disaster but we don’t remember other things, like what we had for breakfast?

3. As a kid, what job did you want to have when you grew up? Were you encouraged or discouraged by your family to pursue your dream job? Do you currently do what you dreamed of doing?

4. Did you ever feel like you were adopted? Not like the rest of your family?

5.  How close are you to your extended family (aunts, uncles and cousins)?

6. If you read the book and without giving away spoilers, were you surprised by the ending?

Favorite Quotes:

“We all know that the future is made when the present shears away from us into the past, like the calving of an iceberg, and still we say ‘I’ll do that tomorrow. I’ll apologize later’ as if our time is infinite.”

“Without dreams, the earth would still be flat, the bottom of the sea full or monsters, and the moon a distant piece of cheese. I’m not saying wonder doesn’t have a price.”

What would you do if you found out you were adopted? What historical fiction or nonfiction have you read about the Space Race or astronomy in general?


About Stephanie A. Smith

From Goodreads: Stephanie A. Smith holds a PhD from UC Berkeley and teaches American Literature at the University of Florida. She studied fiction with both Ursula K. Le Guin and Michael Cunningham, and is the author of six novels, including the recent WARPAINT Trilogy (Thames River Press) and two books of criticism, along with numerous essays, chapters, reviews and short stories.”

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  1. I can honestly say I found out in 5th grade that I was adopted by my dad and back then I wanted to know who my bio dad was (there are some horrible things that happened to my mom leading up to my conception). I never did find out. Now at 39, my dad is my dad. He is the one who gave me his name, literally CHOSE to make me his daughter, and loves me. He is the only person I would ever call dad.

    Great review! Stopping by from SITS!

    1. Thanks for sharing your story Heather, I’m sorry for the hard times your mom went through but so happy to hear you found a dad worthy of the title. This book and the next one I read but haven’t reviewed yet both had me thinking about what I would do. My parents gave me a great childhood and so much love. I don’t think I’d care to find my birth parents if it risked hurting my parents.

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