Review: Do You Dream of Terra-Two? by Temi Oh

This post is part of the Reading Writers of Color 2021 challenge hosted by Lonely Cryptid Media’s staff writer and editor, Dan Michael Fielding.

This review contains spoilers.

Do You Dream of Terra-Two?, Temi Oh’s debut novel, is a deftly written coming-of-age story about six astronauts.

The cover of Do You Dream of Terra-Two by Temi Oh depicts a brown-skinned young woman in an astronauts helmet. She is looking upwards towards a starlit sky. Reflected at the based of her helmet is a mountain range.

The conceit of the book is that a habitable planet–Terra Two–was discovered just prior to the invention of rocketry, approximately 100 years before the start of the book. As a result, the space race didn’t stop with the moon and a few unmanned satellites. Instead, it continues globally. Humans have landed on Mars and pushed out to Jupiter. And now six teenagers and four space race veterans from the UK are headed to Terra Two.

This makes for an interesting setting in which for Oh to place her characters. To be honest, I mostly wanted more about this setting. We see the contours of this world, but I would love to know more. How do these countries manage to manifest such huge sums of money for space exploration? What does this mean for other projects we know states engage in–things like war, colonization, policing, etc.? We know a little about what the “common people” believe is going on, but it’s all through the eyes of our six brilliant teenagers, who are necessarily biased about the whole thing. What does everyone else think–really think–about all of this? Beyond just hero worship or founding a new religion–which, incidentally, does happen.

One of the historical figures in this world is the woman who discovered Terra Two long before the science had caught up enough to prove its existence. She knew Terra Two was real and worked to measure its existence by tracking the dimming of the twin stars it orbits. This is a fascinating story and I wanted to know more. What was it really like for her as a woman navigating this knowing? We know what happens to her (and it’s…not great), but this is delivered as an historical anecdote. If Oh ever comes out with more stories set in this world I will happily read them.

The mission is dangerous. The six teenagers who were chosen for the mission were part of a national program that recruited them as kids and subjected them to intensive training. The final six were chosen from hundreds of hopefuls, and they never forget that it could have been anyone in their place. For the kids who were finally chosen, what makes them more deserving than any of the dozens of other kids who receive perfect marks and were perfectly healthy? Is there something like fate involved? The imposter syndrome is a strong and relatable element.

One of the major themes of the story is this question of fate. In addition to Oh’s absolutely excellent treatment of the science, her characters have robust and complicated relationships to religion, fate, and destiny. I wasn’t expecting this from the summaries I’d read of the book, but it came as a pleasant surprise. Oh clearly knows a lot about religion(s) and was able to use that knowledge to support characterization. Further, she shows how a belief in God might shift and change given the scientific proof of another planet capable of supporting life. Often in speculative fiction references to real-world religions are left out, but Oh is able to integrate this discussion deftly.

Do You Dream of Terra-Two? is ultimately a young adult novel, and as such Oh spends a great deal of time on character interactions and with how the characters develop as they grow into adulthood. Each of the main six are the focus of different chapters in turn, and we as readers are privy to their rich inner lives. I enjoyed seeing what makes these characters tick, and Oh is able to draw us to love the ones we need to love and to detest the ones we need to detest. My only complaint here is that some of the characters have so many problems in their life that it started to feel gratuitous. For example, one character grew up in an abusive home. We see several interactions with her and her home life. The point was made early on in the story, but we continue to return to these types of interactions. This same character later enters a relationships that–to me–seems abusive as well. However, this is not dealt with in the text and, in the end, there is little resolution for this plot point.

Honestly, my greatest disappointment with the book is that it ends–and ends where it does. The book jacket promises a 23-year journey through space. What we get is barely one year in space, and we never see if they make it to Terra Two. There was quite a bit left to resolve by the end of the book which, ultimately, we are left to wonder about. As far as I know Temi Oh doesn’t have any plans for a sequel.

For me, however, I would much rather have a book leave me with questions than to feel like things were resolved inadequately. I devoured this book in just a few days and I’m still thinking about it now, nearly two weeks later. That’s the mark of a thoughtful book.

Oh tells her story in what is generally sparse, straightforward prose. This is clearly an artistic choice that serves the story well. When she needs to, she is able to paint a beautiful image. When the ship is first launched into space and Oh describes the world falling away, it’s beautiful and tense. I’m hopeful Oh will display more of this talent and skill in her later work.

I’d recommend the book for anyone who wants an action-packed coming-of-age story filled with racially diverse, brilliant-yet-flawed characters who are just muddling through this thing called life.

As an aside–Oh is a trained neuroscientist. If you’re looking for a book to read for February’s challenge (a book by a scientist of color) then you could maybe consider this one!

What book did you read for January’s challenge? Feel free to leave a link to your review in the comments below!

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