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They Know Where They’re Going, But They Don’t Know Where They’ve Been

A review of Johan Harstad's 172 Hours on the Moon, which will make you glad you didn't achieve your childhood goal of becoming an astronaut.

They Know Where They’re Going, But They Don’t Know Where They’ve Been

BOOK REPORT for 172 Hours on the Moon by Johan Harstad, translated by Tara F. Chace

Cover Story: Lost In Translation
BFF Charm: Yay!
Swoonworthy Scale: 4
Talky Talk: Prosetastic With a Kubrickian Twist
Bonus Factors: Urban Legends, Space Travel
Relationship Status: Unattainable Crush

Cover Story: Lost In Translation

172 Hours to the Moon by Johan Harstad | Norwegian cover

Look at the cover on the original Norwegian version! It’s AMAZING, isn’t it? The double image, the contrast, the sciency diagrammy stuff, the NASA-like font.

Of course, it got changed for the US version, and that’s when things started to go wrong. I like the creepy vibe of the new cover and the reflection of the moon’s surface in the GIANT EYEBALL, but I just can’t help but be grossed out by the HELLO EYELASHES. I keep thinking about all the weird mites and shit that live on everyone’s eyelashes, and I don’t like to think about those.

But you know what’s cool? You can check out the designer’s alternate covers and get a little idea of the possibilities.

The Deal:

It’s 2018, and it’s happened again — NASA has picked up a transmission from the moon. It’s been decades since the last manned mission to the moon, but the government decides to send another team up to live in the top secret base that’s sat unused since it was built 40 years earlier. The base that was abandoned before it could even be opened 40 years earlier, because of something so frightening, it was immediately buried under layers of red tape and secrecy. In order to deflect attention from the cover up and stir public enthusiasm, NASA has decided to send three teenagers – winners of an international lottery – up with the astronauts. Of course, that’s when things go horribly wrong.

BFF Charm: Yay!

I’d hand out BFF charms to all three of the teenaged astronauts — kids who signed up for the moon lottery to get away from something at home, not because they are giant space nerds who want to add to their college applications. They’re very definitely teenagers, with all the boredom with home and broken hearts and uncertainty about the future, but rather than falling into emo territory, the kids are funny. Antoine is attractively roguish, once he gets over his mild ex-girlfriend-stalking phase, and I just wanted to hug Midori and have long chats about feminism and women’s roles in society and whisk her away somewhere she could blossom. And I can tell when Mia gets through her teenagery nihilist phase, her music is going to be extraordinary.

Swoonworthy Scale: 4

The romantic plot isn’t a driving force in the book. It’s there, and it’s only natural that teenagers on a doomed space mission would get hormonal together, and when they do it’s sweet and tender and swoony, but you know. See doomed space mission. The low-key romance added rather than distracted from the main thrust (haha, see what I did there? Sex pun AND spaceship pun!).

Talky Talk: Prosetastic With a Kubrickian Twist

Harstad’s writing is clever and dry, the kind of book you start out underlining all the best passages (“Time was a sticky, sleepy snail,”) but quit because there are just too many. The teenage angst is filtered through a jaded lens, cracked in just the right spot to let genuine feeling through, as in these two passages about Mia, who hates school and her city, and whose relationship with her parents is antagonistic at best:

Mia felt her school was the kind of place where the teachers, with a few decent exceptions, should have gone into pretty much any profession other than teaching. Janitorial work, for example. Or tending graveyards.

and

They had talked about nearly everything — the expedition, the uncertainty about her band back home, and about Midori and Antoine.

There had been quite a bit about Antoine, especially in the last week. She hadn’t noticed it herself, but she had a tendency to bring him up pretty much no matter what topic they were discussing.

Or this bit about Antoine, which is simultaneously over-the-top morose AND sincere. And made me laugh. Oh, Antoine.

The boat had simply sailed on their relationship. And it hadn’t just left port. The whole pier had been torn down, the water drained, and the whole place converted into the world’s loneliest parking lot.

And underneath all this honest teenage emotion is a creepy, 2001: A Space Odyssey” feeling, the kind that makes you look over your shoulder and check under the bed.

Bonus Factor: Urban Legends

I love urban legends, and Midori has some great ones. You’ll never hear the question, “Am I beautiful?” the same way again.

Bonus Factor: Space Travel

I wanted to be an astronaut so badly when I was a kid — not even the Challenger tragedy dampened my determination to be part of the first manned Mars mission. It’s probably a good thing calculus eventually came along and foiled those plans, considering where the space program is today. The details in the book are super cool, too.

Casting Call:

Helene Bergsholm as Mia

(I’m DYING to see this movie now, too.)

Relationship Status: Unattainable Crush

This book is that guy you’ll never get the courage to even talk to, but you spend hours imagining witty banter and subtly flirty conversations with when you can’t sleep at night. It’s smart and funny and I can’t decide if I want to date it or be it.

Want a shot at this book? Work for it — leave a comment telling whether or not you’d sign up for the moon lottery (obvs not knowing it was likely to go terribly wrong).

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my review copy from Little, Brown.  I received neither money nor cocktails for writing this review (dammit!). 172 Hours on the Moon will be available April 17.

Meghan Miller's photo About the Author: Meghan is an erstwhile librarian in exile from Texas and writer for Forever Young Adult. She loves books, cooking and homey things like knitting and vintage cocktails. Although she’s around books all the time, she doesn’t get to read as much as she’d like.