Age Appropriateness: All, though ages 8 and older may relate better
Parent Involvement: Largely unnecessary
Luciana Vega is Girl of the Year 2018
I have known that Luciana was coming and that she was going to be a Space and Science related girl for almost SIX months, and I couldn’t WAIT to see what they did with her. She absolutely does not disappoint!
I think that my favorite part of Luciana’s story is that she absolutely does not easily win at everything. She’s been desperately trying to earn the Essay contest for a scholarship to go to Space Camp for Three Years, and failed twice. This year, however, she won the scholarship and book one is about her week at camp. Her parents are largely absent, although they do appear to drop her off, pick her up and have two phone calls. Luciana’s parents are trying to adopt a baby girl named Isadora from Chile, where they both grew up and most of their extended family still lives.
Luciana shares a bunk room with four other girls, most of them hit it off well immediately, but one girl, Ella, is very hard for Luciana to get along with. Ella is a stickler for rules, and she can quote them verbatim, while Luciana barely even read her welcome packet for camp. At home, Luciana is advanced and comfortable with her vast knowledge of space related information, but she quickly begins to feel self-conscious and like she might not be able to compete when she realizes that she “Didn’t expect all the other kids at camp to be Geniuses.”
She wins her first challenge, a simulated International Space Station repair challenge, and wins the team captain position for a robotics challenge. Her teammates are also her roommates. Luciana is very much less experienced and knowledgeable about robotics than she is about Space, and she knows even less about how the robot challenge is handled at Space Camp, something Ella is more than happy to frequently point out to her.
Because of her lack of experience with Robotics and not understanding the program, she makes a series of mistakes that ultimately lead to substantial consequences for her team. The girls on her team (and herself) wind up unintentionally damaging their rival team’s robot in a catastrophic way. When Luciana’s team is offered a massive “Sponsorship” that would mean they could use any parts they wanted for their own robot, she is faced with the tough decision to keep the currency, or use it to make up for their costly mistake and give their rival team their advantage back. She follows her heart and winds up winning the respect and friendship of both robotics teams and many of the Space Camp staff members for her handling of her serious mistakes.
Unlike my complaints about Z On Location (click here for that post) and Z’s frequent mistakes and consequences, Luciana’s challenges are both legitimate mistakes and dealt with in constructive ways that Luciana and young readers can actually learn from and apply to their life instead of punitive drama to propel a story.
I will say that after their initial space-related exercise, and one other near the end of the book, the book focused almost entirely on robotics. Yes, they were supposed to be building Mars Rovers, but for being at Space Camp, Luciana’s incredible zeal for all things Space, and the fact that the doll is going to have a literal Space Suit and Space Station Capsule, I was surprised there wasn’t a bit more… Well, Space, at least in the first book.
The author, Erin Teagan, worked in Biochemistry for 10 years, and brings a refreshingly pro-STEM girl to the American Girl collection. One of the things I loved the most about this book, was that not even once was anything about girls being interested in STEM ever mentioned, even in passing. It was treated as utterly and completely normal and something no one would ever bat an eye at. Even when it’s framed positively, like “It’s so great to see so many girls interested in space” that treats it like it is an unusual thing for girls to like, which this book absolutely excelled at NOT doing. Even rival team captain James, who was extremely full of himself and his own ideas, and frequently butted heads with Ella — never, ever said anything about her being a girl, he disagreed with the girls on their own merit and opinions, not because of their gender. I feel like this had to be an intentional choice, and I applaud it to no end.
The other thing I want to draw attention to is the Advisory Committee. I sometimes feel that while AG absolutely excels at having impeccably researched and thought out historical characters, I don’t always feel the same level of authenticity and work going into the characters of today. Luciana feels researched to the moon and back again – literally. When I flipped to the Author’s Note page, I was blown away to find that not only had Erin Teagan been to the actual Space Camp and experienced all the things Luciana would experience there in preparation of writing this book, but the advisory board was comprised of current and former Astronauts, NASA and NASA Cheif Scientists, the actual Space Camp being written about, and the Johnson Space Center… I’d say that’s an amazing team behind this story!
Luciana is done right. She is well thought-out and an interesting, engaging read. She as a character is bright, ambitious, caring and has integrity. She takes responsibility for her mistakes and does what she can to make it right. She frequently talks herself up internally to have compassion and empathy for other kids, even the ones she feels are mean to her, and it ultimately pays off in friendships.
Luciana, book one is a spectacular American Girl book, and I cannot wait to see what comes next in her series.
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