Chamomile Myles wants the perfect prom dress, an adorable “promposal” and an opportunity to (finally) use the condom she hides in a box under her bed. She doesn’t think that’s too much to ask from the universe, but in Florence Gonsalves’ second YA novel, Dear Universe, nothing is going the way Cham wants.
When she’s around her friends, Cham puts all her effort toward making the last three months of their senior year of high school memorable, spending her time drinking, dancing and daydreaming about her boyfriend. But there’s another side to Cham’s life—practically a whole other universe, in fact—that she won’t let her friends or boyfriend see. Cham’s father has Parkinson’s disease, and she and her mother struggle to care for him at home. In heartfelt pleas to the universe, Cham asks for guidance on how to reconcile the disparate parts of her life while staying afloat in the fishbowl that is high school.
Despite frequent moments of buoyancy and levity, Dear Universe confronts how hard a parent’s illness can be on a family and the pressure it can put on children and teens. Neither of Chem’s parents want to address her dad’s Parkinson’s diagnosis with her. As a result, the unspoken subject weighs on her, and she tries her best to avoid her own worries and uncomfortable feelings, hiding them from everyone who cares for her.
As Cham learns to open up and feel comfortable letting people in, Gonsalves also explores the effects of the intense expectations placed on Cham to have her entire life figured out at age 17. Cham feels out of place in her suburban town, as she’s smart but not academically motivated or driven to succeed in the college acceptance rat race. Fortunately, a supportive teacher and a surprising friendship help her begin to accept that having more questions than answers can be a strength, not a problem to fix.
Readers whose families have also faced a loved one’s illness will find Dear Universe particularly powerful, as Cham and her parents find new ways to be honest with each other. But all families have subjects they find difficult to talk about, and all teens struggle to reconcile social life with home life. What teen hasn’t wished for the universe to reveal an easy path forward into adulthood? The universe may never respond, but Cham’s voice will come through loud and clear.