There Is Always Hope by Nicole Panteleakos
As a kid, I was weirdly obsessed with terrible things.
Natural disasters. Extreme weather. National tragedies.
I remember being six years old, standing at the back door, staring through the glass as Hurricane Bob tore through New England. I vividly recall being nine and taking notes during the footage of the Oklahoma City Bombing so I could relay the details to my parents later. At age eleven, I developed an intense fear of flying due to the crash of TWA Flight 800. On September 11, like most of my classmates, I couldn’t turn off the television.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder manifests differently in different people, and for me, obsessing over these disasters was the norm early on. Writing about what I was seeing helped me cope with and try to understand the awful, unpredictable stories that kicked off each evening’s news broadcast. Developing protective rituals helped keep the bad things at bay. But scared as I was, burying my head in the sand was never an option. I refused to turn off the news. I refused to be caught off guard. I wanted to know everything.
I was too young to remember the Challenger launch, but I’ll never forget the Punky Brewster episode in which her entire class is watching, expecting to see Christa McAuliffe make history. Kids so excited, full of hope. As a viewer, I was, too. When the space shuttle exploded, I felt blindsided. Heartbroken. Betrayed. Classrooms across the country watched collectively—the way my generation did on September 11 as a national disaster, a horrible tragedy, unfolded in front of them on live TV.
In my novel Planet Earth Is Blue, twelve-year-old Nova is a nonverbal autistic girl awaiting the return of her missing big sister, Bridget, who promised they would watch together when NASA skyrockets the first teacher into space.
The title of the book comes from the song “Space Oddity” by David Bowie, which is about an astronaut lost in space. The full line is “Planet Earth is blue and there’s nothing I can do.” I have long wanted to write a middle-grade novel both inspired by the song and about the Challenger, not to betray kids, but to emphasize that there is still hope. We cannot stop tragedies from happening—no amount of OCD ritualistic behavior will, which has been difficult for me to internalize—but we can control how we react to them, how we view them, and how we move on from them.
Nova hasn’t had an easy childhood. She’s in foster care. She has sensory issues. She struggles with making new friends. Most people don’t understand her. And she doesn’t know when she’ll see her big sister again. But she is resilient, determined, and brave. She is smart, has an active imagination, loves deeply, and wants to connect.
She needs to see Challenger succeed. She plans to someday walk on the moon.
But as Nova learns, sometimes bad things happen and there’s nothing she can do. And that’s okay.
There is always hope.
Nicole Panteleakos is a middle-grade author, playwright, and Ravenclaw whose plays have been performed at numerous theaters and schools in Connecticut and New York City. She earned her BA in Theatre Scriptwriting from Eastern Connecticut State University and is currently working toward her MFA in Children’s Literature at Hollins University. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, and has three awesome godchildren, two quirky cats, and at least one Broadway song stuck in her head at all times. Planet Earth Is Blue is her debut novel. Visit Nicole on Twitter at @NicWritesBooks, on Facebook (facebook.com/nicolepanteleakos), or at nicolepanteleakos.com.