Black Mirror meets What If It’s Us in this gripping, romantic, and wildly surprising novel about two boys lost in space trying to find their way home—while falling in love—from the critically acclaimed author of We Are the Ants.
When Noa closes his eyes on Earth and wakes up on a spaceship called Qriosity just as it’s about to explode, he’s pretty sure things can’t get much weirder.
Boy is he wrong.
Trapped aboard Qriosity are also DJ and Jenny, neither of whom remember how they got onboard the ship. Together, the three face all the dangers of space, along with murder, aliens, a school dance, and one really, really bad day. But none of this can prepare Noa for the biggest challenge—falling in love. And as Noa’s feelings for DJ deepen, he has to contend not just with the challenges of the present, but also with his memories of the past.
However, nothing is what it seems on Qriosity, and the truth will upend all of their lives forever.
Love is complicated enough without also trying to stay alive.
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
I WOKE UP ON A spaceship.
I’d crawled into bed, my hair still damp from the rain, and shut my eyes, expecting to wake up in the same place I fell asleep. As one tends to do. But, no. When I opened my eyes, I was most definitely not in my room any longer. Nor was I in my apartment in Seattle or even still on Earth.
I didn’t actually wake up on the spaceship. Rather, I woke up outside it, wearing a spacesuit. Drifting in the vacuum where there’s no oxygen or gravity, and basically everything wants to kill you.
You might be thinking that I knew I was in space because I saw stars. It’s a good guess, but wrong. The first thing I saw was a note on the heads-up display inside my helmet.
You are wearing a Beekman-Hauser X-300 Vacuum-Rated Spacesuit.
You are in space, floating outside a ship called Qriosity.
There is no reason to panic.
My name is Noa North, and I am not ashamed to admit that I panicked.
“Help!” I screamed so loudly that my voice cracked. Not that it mattered—there was nowhere for the sound to go. It’s a common misconception that sound doesn’t travel in space. It does; it just doesn’t travel well. That didn’t stop me from screaming, though. And flailing my arms and legs as if doing either was going to help. Cut me some slack. It was my first time in space.
Also, hopefully my last.
Warning! Your heart rate is exceeding the maximum recommended beats per minute. Please attempt thirty seconds of relaxed breathing.
“Are you kidding me?”
Your health and well-being are no laughing matter. This alert has been a courtesy of Vedette Biometrics, a subsidiary of Gleeson Foods.
“I’m sorry, what?”
The notification disappeared, replaced by a series of readouts that were no doubt intended to be helpful but which meant nothing to me. I wasn’t totally useless. I could build any piece of furniture from IKEA without committing murder in the process, I played a mean game of Mario Kart, and I could whip up a salted caramel buttercream that would blow your mind, but I had no business being in a spacesuit.
And, yet, there I was.
I did manage to locate the suit’s oxygen levels in the mess of information overload. I supposedly had seventy-four minutes remaining. I hoped that was enough time to get somewhere safe, though I wasn’t sure what “safe” even meant anymore.
“This is fine. I’m not going to die. I am not going to die.” My helmet was transparent on three sides and let me get a good look at my suit, which was pea-soup green with eggplant accents. “I am not going to die in this outfit.”
Being in space seemed unlikely. People didn’t just wake up in space. But I had two choices: one, accept that this was real and that I wasn’t dreaming or on drugs or in hell being punished for the time in sixth grade that I tied tampons I’d stolen from Mrs. Russo’s desk to Luke Smith’s shoes; or two, do nothing, wait to run out of oxygen, and pray that I hadn’t made a horrible mistake.
I was tempted to do nothing, don’t think I wasn’t. It was the path of least resistance, which my mom and all of my teachers from first grade on would agree was my favorite. But I wanted to live, which meant I needed to stop freaking out and start trying to save myself.
I patted the suit down and discovered a tether attached to my belt around the back. The ship my hud had named “Qriosity” was immediately in front of me within reach, so I fumbled about, using the hull to slowly turn myself around.
That’s when the harsh, unrelenting reality of my situation hit me. I wasn’t looking at the stars, I was surrounded by them. Space was empty and filled with shards of light. It was terrifying and brilliant, and I was just a minuscule part of creation. I choked on the beauty of it, and I was strangled by fear.
Immediately, my brain short-circuited. It couldn’t process that I was floating when it thought I should obviously be falling. Wave after wave of nausea flowed through me, threatening to overwhelm my senses.
“Don’t puke in the suit. Don’t puke in the suit. Don’t puke, don’t puke, don’t puke.” I squeezed my eyes shut even though that was the worst thing I could do, but I didn’t care. All I knew for certain was that vomiting inside the suit was probably an awful idea that I should avoid at any cost.
I quietly repeated Mrs. Blum’s macaron recipe until the sick, dizzy sensation subsided enough that I could open my eyes. Nothing had changed. The stars were still there; I was still outside the ship. It was time to remedy that. I grabbed hold of the tether and pulled myself along it hand over hand.
Despite the stars, most of the useful light was coming from lamps on my suit, and those did little more than create a weak bubble of illumination that extended about a meter around me. I could see the hull of the ship as I passed it, but I couldn’t see the entire ship. I didn’t even know what the other end of the tether was connected to.
“This is ridiculous. Who the hell wakes up in space?” I’d heard of waking up in Vegas, and once, the year my mom sent me to summer camp, Danny Forge woke up in the middle of Stonecana Reservoir in a canoe, but no one ever woke up in space. Except that I had. My brain kept trying to point out that it was impossible that I’d gone to bed in Seattle and woken up in space, but I couldn’t deny what I was seeing with my own eyes.
“This is how people lose their minds, isn’t it?” I said aloud. Talking helped keep my stomach calm. “You have to consider the possibility that you’re actually sitting on the forty-four bus in your jammies, mumbling to yourself, and that a bunch of strangers are filming you so they can post it online for the likes.”
That scenario seemed more likely than me being in space, but I had to assume that this was real until I had proof that it wasn’t, or I’d spend all my time questioning everything.
Ahead of me, pale orange lights bloomed around an open hatch that I prayed was an airlock. The tether was connected to the hull on the side of the opening. I pulled as quickly as I could in the suit. It wasn’t as bulky as movies had led me to believe it should be, but it was still awkward to move in.
Gentle blue lights filled the airlock as I floated inside. The moment my boots touched the floor, a notification appeared on my hud. Lithos Inc. Mag Boots have engaged. I shifted from leg to leg, grateful to no longer feel that I was going to spin off into the dark nothing. I detached my tether and watched as it was slurped up by a mechanism outside and disappeared.
The airlock was about the size of a small elevator, but I’d take its cramped confines over the endless expanse of space any day. I just needed to figure out how to shut the door and fill the room with oxygen so that I could get out of the suit, which was growing more claustrophobic by the second. I spied a palm-size touchscreen built into the wall that looked promising. I tapped it with my finger to wake it.
I had never wanted anything more in my life. I was going to get out of the suit and breathe air that didn’t smell and taste faintly of tin and sweat. I was going to get on my hands and knees and kiss the floor. I didn’t know if there was gravity in the ship, but if there was, I was going to jump up just so that I could fall back down. Sure, zero-G sounds fun in theory, but the reality sucked and I wanted off the ride.
I reached out to tap the button that would affirm my deeply held desire to cycle the airlock when a voice spoke to me in a soothing Southern accent. “Uh, hello? Is anyone out there?”
I turned my head, trying to pinpoint the voice’s source.
“Anyway, my name’s DJ. I don’t know how I got on this ship—at least, I think it’s a ship—but I’m pretty sure it’s going to blow up.”
Reading Group Guide
Reading Group Guide for
A Complicated Love Story Set in Space
By Shaun David Hutchinson
About the Book
What could be worse than three teens careening through space alone together on a derelict spaceship? A spaceship that they don’t know how to operate, that always seems to be thirty seconds away from blowing up or shutting down or otherwise killing them. A ship that could, at any moment, decide to start randomly hyperjumping through space. Add in the facts that those three teens—Noa, DJ, and Jenny—woke up on the ship without knowing one another, how they got there, or what they need to do to survive, and a terrible situation becomes even more complex. DJ and Jenny begin to accept this new life and that they will never see Earth again, but Noa just can’t. His life on Earth was far from perfect, but he’s not ready to give it up just yet. And then things start to get weird. Will Noa sort out his feelings for DJ? Will he figure out how to stop repeating the same day over and over again? Will he be eaten by the rogue alien attacking the ship? And will he ever make peace with spending the rest of his life on this rusty spaceship?
1. When Noa wakes up outside the Qriosity, he says, “I was tempted to do nothing, don’t think I wasn’t. It was the path of least resistance, which my mom and all of my teachers from first grade on would agree was my favorite.” Can you find evidence of this statement throughout the book? Are there times when Noa does not appear to take the path of least resistance? On these occasions, what spurs him to make an effort?
2. From the start, Noa decides he needs to assume their situation is real until he has proof otherwise. Later, however, he tells the others, “‘I’m not saying we’re not on a ship. . . . But I don’t think we should take it for granted that we are either.’” Why do you think he accepts his reality when he first wakes up outside the Qriosity? Why do you think he questions this as the story goes on? What are possible alternatives if they aren’t really on a ship?
3. Do Noa’s views on survival change as he learns more about the ship and his situation? What about when he learns the truth about the trio’s life on board the Qriosity?
4. How does Noa define love? How does DJ define it? How do their perceptions differ? How have their past experiences changed their views of love? Which view do you most identify with?
5. When do we first get an indication that Noa doesn’t like to be touched? Why do you think Noa struggles with this? What happens to make him more willing to let people get both physically and emotionally close to him? How does that impact his experiences on the ship?
6. As the teens search the ship, why does DJ say that he’s staying calm? How much truth is in this statement? Does DJ have a reason to be nervous? How do you think Jenny and Noa would have reacted if DJ had chosen to freak out? What if he had told them the real reason for his calm attitude?
7. At one point, Noa says that DJ “. . . put himself out there, tried to be nice to me, and I’d fashioned his good intentions into weapons and wounded him with them.” Why do you think Noa subjects himself to this cycle of pain? What does it say about Noa that he’s able to recognize this behavior? Has anyone ever responded the same way to Noa’s good intentions?
8. Why is it so important to Noa that his kidnapping and time on the ship not turn him into a victim? As horrible as the situation is, in what ways does his presence on the ship represent a fresh start? Do you think that he would have been able to redefine himself if he’d been kidnapped and held somewhere on Earth? Explain your answers.
9. When Noa is watching Murder Your Darlings and avoiding DJ and Jenny, why do the other two try to get him to reengage? Why do they need Noa to be present?
10. What advice from his mother does Noa remember and apply to this situation? Is he consistent in following this advice? Why is it important that the advice came from his mother? Does anyone else give him similar advice?
11. When Noa withdraws to the couch a second time, Jenny gets tough with him and has an honest conversation about his reaction to their predicament. Which of the things that she tells him do you agree with? What do you think about the points she’s making? Does her talk have an effect on Noa?
12. What does Noa think happens to a person when they die? Does his experience dying change his mind? Does Jenny change her views on the meaning of death after she is killed? How does learning the truth about their situation change what they think about death?
13. When Noa goes on a baking binge, he tells Jenny that it’s the only thing on Qriosity that makes him feel normal. What do you think feeling normal means for him? What does it mean for you? Do you think Noa can ever feel normal on the Qriosity?
14. Why does Noa resist DJ’s romantic overtures? How much truth is in the reasons he gives to Jenny and DJ? Do you think there are other reasons that he won’t admit?
15. Why does Noa resist following Dr. Kim’s advice for getting out of the time loop? What does it mean for Noa if it works?
16. How does Noa feel about Billy after the sexual assault? How does he feel about himself? Why doesn’t he tell anyone what happened?
17. DJ tells Noa, “‘You’re not a story, Noa. You’re a storyteller.’” What does DJ mean by this? Do you agree or disagree with his statement? How might Noa’s life change if he believed this? Does discovering the truth about their situation make this philosophy easier or more difficult for Noa to accept?
18. Given what we know about DJ, discuss why he tells Noa, “‘Well, memories are just stories we tell ourselves to make sense of the past, so don’t let that one memory become the only story you tell about yourself. Who we were isn’t who we are; it doesn’t limit who we can be.’”
19. Why is Jenny focused on the fact that DJ stole her story? Do you think she retains any of the traits of the leading lady she was meant to be? How do these traits help her?
20. Why does Noa find it so difficult to hold on to his identity once he finds out that his memories do not really belong to him? What do you think makes up a person: the experiences that they have, or their intrinsic qualities? How do you think DJ or Jenny would answer this question? Explain your answers.
21. Do you think Production is evil, or are there details that make what they’re doing understandable? What is Jenny Perez’s role? Do you think she is a perpetrator or a victim? Explain your answers.
1. In the novel, the Qriosity always seems to be on the verge of breaking down. In reality, while humans have achieved great things in the area of space travel, these achievements did not come without mistakes, breakdowns, and tragedies. Research one of these setbacks, such as with the Apollo 1 or Apollo 13 missions, the Challenger, or others, and report back to your class on what you found.
2. The fact that Noa was raped has a profound impact on his life and his relationships. Find a group in your community that either works to prevent sexual assault or supports those seeking help. Consider volunteering or helping to spread awareness of these resources. If there is no such group, you could consider starting one.
3. If someone were making a show about your life, what genre would it fall into? Would it be a comedy, a drama, a fantasy, or some combination of genres? Write a scene from your show and get some friends to help you perform it.
4. Noa feels so betrayed when he finds out that his memories belonged to someone else, because he believes that certain key memories define a person. What would some of your defining memories be, the events in your life that made you who you are today? Create a painting or a collage that illustrates these key moments.
5. If you could design a rocket ship, what elements would you include? A game room? A garden? A food synthesizer? Mock up plans for your personal spaceship and share them with your classmates.
Guide written by Cory Grimminck, Director of the Portland District Library in Michigan.
This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes. For more Simon & Schuster guides and classroom materials, please visit simonandschuster.net or simonandschuster.net/thebookpantry.