by Kate Hope Day
Publisher: Random House
Publication Date: March 2, 2021
June is a brilliant but difficult girl with a gift for mechanical invention who leaves home to begin grueling astronaut training at the National Space Program. Younger by two years than her classmates at Peter Reed, the school on campus named for her uncle, she flourishes in her classes but struggles to make friends and find true intellectual peers. Six years later, she has gained a coveted post as an engineer on a space station—and a hard-won sense of belonging—but is haunted by the mystery of Inquiry, a revolutionary spacecraft powered by her beloved late uncle’s fuel cells. The spacecraft went missing when June was twelve years old, and while the rest of the world seems to have forgotten the crew, June alone has evidence that makes her believe they are still alive.
She seeks out James, her uncle’s former protégé, also brilliant, also difficult, who has been trying to discover why Inquiry’s fuel cells failed. James and June forge an intense intellectual bond that becomes an electric attraction. But the relationship that develops between them as they work to solve the fuel cell’s fatal flaw threatens to destroy everything they’ve worked so hard to create—and any chance of bringing the Inquiry crew home alive.
A propulsive narrative of one woman’s persistence and journey to self-discovery, In the Quick is an exploration of the strengths and limits of human ability in the face of hardship, and the costs of human ingenuity.
Content warnings: View Spoiler »death of parents (off-page, before book starts), death of a parental figure, arson, injuries and death (including near drowning and the effects of no gravity on bodies), various space accidents (including one that results in am amputation), child neglect bordering on abuse « Hide Spoiler
Look, I’m going to be completely honest and tell you to ignore the blurb and simply think of this as a Jane-Eyre-as-an-astronaut retelling. It’s not, as some of those pull-quotes would have you believe, a feminist adventure (?) or, heaven forbid, a romance, but it is a competent Jane Eyre coming-of-age story wrapped up in some scifi trappings.
These are schematics for a new kind of fuel cell, he said. One that will power an explorer to the edge of our solar system. He spread them out and explained how to read them, how to understand the markings for the cell’s dimensions and functions, and decipher the schematics’ key.
June’s uncle invented the fuel cells that powered a new type of spacecraft designed for long range exploration, and it’s both a blessing and a curse that June shares her uncle’s engineering-focused mind. After his death, her aunt sends her off to an astronaut training program, where June becomes obsessed with the now-missing spacecraft, with the fuel cells blamed for the tragedy. Even as she herself makes her way to space, she’s convinced that the space program has wrongly abandoned the ship, and enlists her uncle’s former protégées for help.
June’s an interesting character to watch develop, especially from her first-person POV. The book starts with her as a child, following her uncle around and learning the basics of engineering and invention (“What does it do?”) that will encourage her love of space and intention to be an astronaut. While she’s got a mind for mechanics, she’s not as great with people, and struggles sometimes to articulate what’s in her head to others. Even most of her fellow students at the training program overlook or underestimate her. The only exceptions are her uncle’s former proteges, mostly out of fondness for her uncle rather than any particular perceptiveness. James, the Rochester analogue, is one of those proteges, similarly obsessed with fixing the flaw in the fuel cells but hiding a dark secret. One of my favorite parts of the book was watching them work together, especially June’s euphoria at finally finding a like-minded person. As for the romance between them… well, I’m not a big fan of the romance portion of Jane Eyre either, but even more so, very little time was spent on their relationship besides them working together. So the physical portion of their relationship certainly didn’t come out of left field, but it felt like nothing more than proximity and similar mechanically inclined minds.
Behind my eyes the fuel cell worked with a buzzing hum. Worked and worked. I pushed his arm off me and opened my eyes.
Are you sleeping? I asked in the darkness.
I see that damn cell when I close my eyes, he said.
I hear its vents in my ears, I said.
He turned and I felt the heat of his limbs next to mine.
There are some interesting choices made in terms of how close to hew to the original story and where to diverge with the original story, and for the most part I think it worked out quite well. Like horrible Lowood, the astronaut training program involves barracks, some physical privations, and bad food, but rather than simply surviving to adulthood, June’s striving for a spot to train as an astronaut. The Thornfield equivalent felt especially well done, a bleakly rundown station set in the middle of vast nothingness. I also liked where – and how – the book ended, as it solidified that the core of the story was June’s personal journey. There were bits that seemed completely unrealistic (how the fuel cell was discovered, that they’d be able to assemble new ones in isolation with limited materials), but, again, *waves hands* Jane-Eyre-in-space. My biggest issue with the book is that it does have a bit of the “important literary fiction” thing going on. The most noticeable manifestation of that is the complete lack of any dialog punctuation, which you can see from the quotes above. I have no idea what this stylistic choice is meant to do besides annoy the reader.
Overall, I’d give this 3.5 stars because I liked June’s voice and her drive, and I liked comparing this retelling to the original. For me, at least, it was a quick read, so if astronaut Jane Eyre sounds interesting to you, I’d recommend checking it out from the library.