Brendan Buckley is a bi-racial, ten-year-old scientist who studies Tae Kwon Do and keeps a top-secret notebook filled with questions he intends to spend the summer answering. He has adventures with his good friend, the mischievous and charming Khalfani, and spends time with his feisty paternal grandmother, Gladys. When he unexpectedly meets his white grandfather, Ed DeBose, for the first time at a rock collector’s event, many of the questions begin to revolve around this man his mother refuses to speak about. The biggest mystery, one that he feels very deeply, is why Ed turned his back on his daughter and the grandson he never met.
In Brendan Buckley’s Universe and Everything in It, Brendan’s life is full, his parents clearly love him, his hobbies keep his mind active, but like many of us who come from bi-racial or cultural families, he wonders about this other part of him, and thinks that this other grandfather might hold a key.
In the end Brendan comes to realize some very important things, and authentic to his character, he expresses them within a scientific context. My favorite is a revelation he comes to near the end of the book: “I thought again about what minerals had taught me. A mineral’s color was important, but it was only part of what made it what it was. The color on the inside — what you learned by scraping the mineral against a hard surface — told you much more about what the mineral actually was.” And lucky for us, Brendan has his own scrapes and we find out just how strong this young man is.
Author Sundee Frazier manages to capture a boy’s voice and thoughts authentically (I have a ten-year-old myself, and it’s right on the money) and even as an adult reader I found I could identify with him. From the beginning she establishes what Brendan wants, and the conflict builds to the powerful and emotional conclusion, with the young protagonist growing along the way. I was particularly struck with the tension of the scene in which Ed is trapped beneath a landslide and young Brendan has to go for help which involves driving his grandfather’s stick shift truck. I could feel my heart in my throat as I had nightmares about just this kind of incident when I was a child.