MIDDLE GRADE BOOK REVIEW and AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Chasing the Milky Way by Erin E. Moulton


In a book that pairs science with mental illness, and heart with adventure, Erin E. Moulton delivers a moving story about family, friendship and the lengths we go for the people we love.

Lucy Peevy has a dream--to get out of the trailer park she lives in and become a famous scientist. And she's already figured out how to do that: Build a robot that will win a cash prize at the BotBlock competition and save it for college. But when you've got a mama who doesn't always take her meds, it's not easy to achieve those goals. Especially when Lucy's mama takes her, her baby sister Izzy, and their neighbor Cam away in her convertible, bound for parts unknown. But Lucy, Izzy and Cam are good at sticking together, and even better at solving problems. But not all problems have the best solutions, and Lucy and Izzy must face the one thing they're scared of even more than Mama's moods: living without her at all.


Erin E. Moulton graduated with an MFA in Writing for Children from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She is the author of Flutter: The Story of Four Sisters and One Incredible Journey(Philomel/Penguin 2011), and Tracing Stars(Philomel/Penguin 2012). Erin is co-founder of the Kinship Writers Association. She lives in Southern New Hampshire with her husband and puppies where she writes, reads, drinks tea and dreams. You can visit her online at www.erinemoulton.com or on Facebook as Erin E. Moulton (Author), or connect on twitter @erinemoulton


What's the 'story behind the story' for this book?

As you know, each story comes in a slightly different way. Lucy and her mom came to me right away but when I was conceptualizing the story, they were part of a rollicking adventure. My editor, Jill Santopolo, read the synopsis for the adventure novel along with the first three chapters and suggested that perhaps Lucy and her mom might be in the wrong story. She liked the family dynamic and thought they had their own story. I hadn't thought of that, but once I pulled them from the high concept plot and took a closer look at them, the entire story fell into place.

What do you find the easiest about writing a story? Hardest?

They are all so different! Some come so easily and others are like pulling teeth. For Chasing the Milky Way, the plot was the easiest thing to lock into place. Right away, I knew where I wanted this story to begin and end, so adding the meat in the middle was just about structure. The real challenge came with the emotional aspect of the novel. The characters go through a lot, and it was very draining as I went from draft to draft. Additionally, I wanted to make sure that my depiction of Mama's mixed diagnosis of Bi-Polar/schizoaffective was authentic, so that required research, conversations and also happened to line up with a field trip to a state hospital art installation. I was worried that I would not be able to relate or would write the character incorrectly. As it turns out, I learned a lot and had zero issues relating. We all have symptons of mental illness and they all manifest in different ways based on individual personalities, so once I started to explore Mama's character more, it began to click.

If you could have dinner with any author from any era, who would it be and why?

Probably Chaucer. I think his mix of poetry, humor and mischief would be fun to have at a dinner party!

Where do you enjoy doing your writing?

I hate writing outside the house, though, I do that about once a month with a writer friend and it is always great. But normally I write in my sitting room. I have a standing desk and four fully stocked bookshelves. The dogs keep me company, and since I don't have the coffee shop atmosphere, I have plenty of space to pace, chat to myself and listen to music very loudly. The current manuscript requires loud Hans Zimmer scores, so it can be pretty intense.

If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you like to go and why?

I want to go to a lot of places. I went to Crete, Greece last spring, and I hear it calling to me right now! But of places I have never been, I would really like to go to Brazil. Flutter has been published in Brazil and Tracing Stars and Chasing the Milky Way will be out there in the future. I get notes from Brazil and gifts from my Brazilian publisher around the holidays. I would like to see the place that my book has already traveled and thank the people there for reading it. Of course, it looks beautiful.

Who are some of your favorite authors to read?

I love reading anything by Laurie Halse Anderson, Christopher Paul Curtis, or Lois Lowry. I also re-read certain authors and poets regularly when looking for inspiration. Those include Shakespeare, Robert Frost, and Thoreau. One book that I read in 6th grade that I regularly go back to is A Murder For Her Majesty by Beth Hilgartner.


Mental illness isn't something I've come across a lot in middle grade literature.  It's a complicated thing that still carries a lot of stereotypes with it, so when I heard about this book, I was definitely interested in reading it. Lucy is a very sympathetic character as she struggles to hold her family together now that her Gram is gone. Despite the hardships of living with a mother who doesn't always take her medication, Lucy still hopes to get her family out of the trailer park in which they live.  She also wants to enter and win a robot competition and she almost has the money to do it.  But things go wrong as they so often do and Lucy is left making decisions no child should have to make. But like all of Moulton's books the story is told with plenty of heart covering several sensitive topics with finesse including mental illness and child abuse. (Note: there is a little bit of profanity). A thought-provoking book that could be depressing, but isn't at all. Recommended.


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