The Time it Takes to Fall
Margaret Lazarus Dean uses an American tragedy, the space shuttle Challenger explosion, as the backdrop of her charming coming-of-age novel, The Time It Takes to Fall. The heroine of the story is Dolores Gray, who is just entering the 7th grade. She lives with her mother, Deborah; her father, Frank; and her 5-year-old sister, Delia in Palmetto Park, a fictitious town near Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Dolores is, in many ways, just like every other 11-year-old kid. She is insecure, wants to fit in with the popular girls, and is developing an interest in boys - yet Dolores is a world apart from her peers. She is an intelligent young woman with an avid interest in physics and a dream of someday becoming an astronaut. Dolores chronicles this dream in an inspiring space scrapbook. Any adult with a goal or high aspirations could learn from Dolores’ practice of keeping a journal.
The author separates the book into sections according to the mechanical terms relating to the space shuttle - Operational, Launch Safety, Launch Delays, and Erosion - correlating this terminology with Dolores’ daily life experiences. For example, in "Operational," we learn that Dolores’ father has just been laid off temporarily from NASA, but the family is able to function and stay operational because her mother finds a job in order to contribute to the family income.
Dolores’ father is a technician who works on the solid rocket boosters, a very important mechanical component of the shuttles. He wants Dolores to someday become a technician. She doesn’t have the heart to tell him that she doesn’t want to follow this path; rather, she wants to follow in the footsteps of her idol, astronaut Judith Resnik. Dolores and her father often go together to see the space shuttle launches.
Dolores’ most interesting relationship is with Eric Biersdorfer. Eric, like Dolores, is an exceptional student and has an interest in science, but is a bit of an outsider. Eric’s father is the Director of Launch Safety and plays a pivotal role in the story in terms of Dolores’ father’s career with NASA - and also in the relationship between her mother and father. Dolores is fascinated with Eric, but feels that she will risk her popularity if she befriends him.
In spite of the looming tragedy of the shuttle explosion, The Time It Takes to Fall is an enjoyable read with interesting characters and family dynamics. It was nice how Dolores’ father took an active role in raising his daughters while their mother was away allowing him to build a strong, albeit rocky relationship with Dolores. Young girls like Dolores need positive role models - such as astronaut Judith Resnik. The novel illustrates how important it is to encourage young women to develop their interests and talents in many areas including science. Even though this novel is for adults, teenagers will also enjoy this story.