The answer to the question is two minutes and forty-five seconds…the question is “How long did the Challenger astronauts fall, alive, to the earth.”
The Time It Takes to Fall was recommended to me by a fellow teacher; she described it as a coming-of-age novel that takes place during the Challenger disaster in 1986. She thought I would be interested in it because everyone my age knows Challenger–it was the first major national tragedy in our memories.
The book is excellent. It’s unassuming, just words written on a page to tell a story rather than trying to impress literary critics or prize committees or compete with bestsellers. It is purely story, and I loved every word of it. Delores, the main character, is 12-13 during the course of the book. Her father works for NASA and she wants to be an astronaut when she grows up. There were some parts that missed the mark–thoughts a teenager wouldn’t logically think–but overall the novel is real and true to the last word.
The book also made me think about where I was on January 28, 1986. I know full where I was: in my fourth grade classroom at Cleveland Elementary in Fergus Falls. What I don’t know, because I remember so little of that year, is why we did not watch the Challenger launch. I didn’t see it. I don’t remember any of the aftermath of it. I don’t remember Regan’s speech or any of the reports. I sometimes think that I’m the only person my age that wasn’t sitting in a classroom in front of a television.
Or maybe I did see it, not live but at some point on the news, and filed it away in my “forget” drawer–where I put things from my childhood that I didn’t quite know how to define at the time. If I could go back to one day in my life, I would choose that day. I want to know what I was doing when the shuttle exploded, why I didn’t see it happen, what I thought about it. I remember thinking that Christa McAuliffe was beautiful, knowing she was a teacher. I remember hearing the jokes (which are, suitably, retold in the book by students to other students) and thinking they were both funny and horrible.
If you are a child of the 80s–not born in them, but truly a child of them–you will love this book. You will remember it be able to dust off your own memories of that time and place as you read an amazing story of a girl growing up, trying to hold her family together, falling in love, and questioning the mortality of others–still too young to contemplate her own.