90/100 (9.0 out of 10)
The Rapping Astronaut by Sonia Marta is a very, very ,very, VERY, VERY, VEEERY interesting and unique book. We've never seen a book quite like this!
There are so many words that might be used to describe this book, some of which work for and some of which work against it: unique, special, strange, weird, different, risky, choppy, jumpy, disjointed, clever, cryptic, and quirky.
It helps not to think about this book as a children's book. We know that might sound weird, but it's true. A lot of children are going to find themselves lost and confused reading this unless someone competent is there to guide them through.
This is more a book for professors to invite Political Science and Sociology majors to do a research paper on. This book is more of a winding, weaving subliminal message to the rest of the world about an oppressed and censored people—a people who can't speak freely, do the things they want to do, say the things they want to say, and pursue the dreams and careers they want to pursue.
If it were ever possible to say you're protesting and making social commentary without outright saying you're protesting and making social commentary, then this book would be the ultimate example!
We've seen the sparse protests that get leaked to the media from Eastern block countries. People who simply write “Two Words” (no war) are taken away by police. Anyone caught speaking out against the war in Ukraine are pursed, caught, censored, and “reeducated.” It's all about control—controlling the narrative and thus controlling the population.
No society is immune from the influence and effects of tyranny and censorship. The United States, we fear, may become such a place if we forget ourselves. In Russia, the effects are felt far more profoundly. It's practically expected. People there are afraid to speak out. They're afraid to say “no” or “no more.” They're afraid of their leaders, not the other way around. This book is very timely, in a sense, as we see freedom of speech and expression deteriorating not only in countries like Russia, China, and North Korea, but even in the “bastions of democracy” like the United States, Great Britain, and Australia.
No group of people is more vulnerable to these effects than the children. Children are impressionable and, thus, moldable. If a tyrannical autocracy were to shape children from a young age to act a certain way, believe a certain thing, they'd be more likely than adults to obey.
The subtext of this book is very powerful.
Let's finally look at the book itself. The book stars Austro, the “rapping astronaut.” Austro is not actually a rapper or an astronaut, but a young dreamer who imagines becoming both of those things. Unfortunately, he lives in an oppressive, repressed society centered around a city called Quitequietville where people have no mouths and, so, can't speak out and express themselves. They are, in fact, VERY quiet. Austro seems to be the only person with a working mouth in Quitequietville, even being able to brush his teeth, a rare luxury. He has a “stupid” friend named Bob who believes everything that he has been told and who tries to convince Austro to work the jobs that he and everyone else is working. In other words, Austro is his pressured out of his individualism and personal goals and into careers his society deems acceptable.
The main villain of this book, though he's unseen, is “His Majesty, the King”--possibly inspired by a real life leader—who lives a castle separate from his people. The will of His Majesty, the King is enforced by royal guards dressed in black robes almost like cultists. They are essentially his Gestapo or KGB. They, in turn, are informed by the Quitequietville National Company which collects information and spies on everyone. It is even implied that some friends in this society could be informants or spies. You have to watch your back and be doubly sure you think the right thoughts and say the right things or Big Brother will know and get you.
And the consequences are severe. Although execution and torture aren't explicitly shown, they are implied. You also see medieval instruments of these practices.
The book poses the question of: what if someone as imaginable, creative, and ambitious as Austro were allowed to be truly FREE? Imagine the things he could create and do!
This book makes heavy emphasis on, well... heavy emphasis. Bold letters are often used to heavily emphasize concepts and emotions like bravery, terror, friendship, and secrets. Again, the subtext of this seemingly innocuous book is very deep.
We can definitely appreciate and understand the cryptic nature of this book. You don't want to come right out and protest a totalitarian government that might want to punish you and your associates, you need to be tactful. And that's what this book is: it's unbelievably tactful.
At the same time, as a source of children's entertainment, this leaves a lot to be desired. It can be very confusing, overly complex, and wordy for kids. Even a middle-grade reader might find this to be a bit much. The thing is, it's not written in a way your mind naturally wants to read a book. It's written in a scattered, fragmented, disjointed, cryptic way. It's almost like if you took a beautiful porcelain bowl and intentionally shattered it to make collage art with it.
Speaking of the art, it's actually quite good! That's a plus in favor of this book. Is it as good as the art in something like Do You Know the One? Or Everything is Everything? No. There's really no contest there. However, the art looks solid and presentable. The people and backgrounds are easily recognizable and distinguishable, and there are some interesting, eye-catching things to be found.
All in all, we commend and appreciate what this author was trying to do.
You can check this out on Amazon!