My top reads of 2020 continue with Lauren Baratz-Logsted’s unexpectedly charming and poignant book I Love You, Michael Collins. Contrary to what I first thought when I first picked this book, this is not a love letter to the famed Irish revolutionary leader but actually a delightful and heartfelt look at one of the most exciting moments in US history through the eyes of a young girl.
What’s the Book?
The book centers around ten-year-old Mamie who in the summer of 1969 is given a class assignment to write a letter to one of the American astronauts of the Apollo 11 mission. While all of her classmates decide to write to either Neil Armstrong or Buzz Aldrin, Mamie opts to write to the lesser-known Michael Collins, the astronaut who will not set foot on the moon and will stay with the ship. The excitement in Mamie’s world reaches a fever pitch as the launch draws near and the Apollo 11 mission is all anyone can talk about.
However, all is not right in Mamie’s world. Her own family is divided on the landing. Her father believes the whole thing to be a complete waste of time and money while her mother is excited and wants to throw a party. Mamie’s two older sisters are also at odds with the family dynamic. One sister has broken with tradition to live in her own apartment and work as a secretary, much to the disappointment of their parents, while the other is a surly teenager who only wants to spend time with her edgy boyfriend. Everything comes to a head when a massive argument splinters the family and both her parents leave home. With her parents gone and her sisters unaffected, Mamie is left to try to hold her fractured home together. As Mamie’s world begins to slowly unravel, her stream of letters to Collins continues and she can’t help but wonder if she can take on the same duty to stay behind when everyone else leaves.
Why It’s a Top Ten
In some ways, this book is almost like Guernsey for kids. The book is told all in Mamie’s letters to Collins and captures her sweet but spunky personality perfectly. The perspective does wonders for keeping the reader close to Mamie’s perspective and her straightforward nature and blunt observation adds some sweet levity to the heavier moments of the story. It’s a refreshing format that gives readers a new way to enjoy a book.
As historical fiction, I Love You, Michael Collins offers a great look into this period of American history and the space race. Where many historical fiction books aimed at children can read like a textbook, this one finds a way to balance its content less with a sense of information dumping and more from a place of nostalgia. The beats of relevance are ripe with memory for anyone who was a child themself during the lunar landing. From the house phones to the tv sets and pitchers of Tang, I Love you, Michael Collins perfectly captures the era and attitude of a nation waiting for a pivotal moment.
More than its historical value, I Love You, Michael Collins offers commentary on some difficulties that Mamie finds herself facing. Her father is steeped in tradition and his old ways and bulldozes the members of his family with his gruff demeanor. He disapproves of his two older daughters and puts down his wife’s ambitions and ideas. In turn, Mamie’s mother is dissatisfied with her life and resents the home and husband that keeps her stuck in the same pattern. The unrest in the family swirls around Mamie and she’s forced to face issues much greater than she feels ready to handle.
These are not easy issues for a ten-year-old to tackle and yet that’s exactly what Mamie finds herself facing. She wants her family to get along, but more than that she grows in determination to have something worth holding on to. Throughout her story, she grows in independence and resourcefulness, but she does so with intelligence and grace as well. Through her journey to keep her family together, Mamie learns what makes a home a home, something everyone learns for themself in time.
I Love You, Michael Collins is a fantastic read to introduce young readers to an exciting chapter of American history through the eyes of a character that’s charming and easy to relate to.
Let’s find some joy,