Grace Carter shares a name with her mother and grandmother, but the three generations of women have little else in common. Or so high-school student Grace thinks at the beginning of the latest novel by Victoria writer Ria Voros. As Grace says of her mother, “People were quizzical when our names matched but we didn’t. She was thin and blonde and I was solid and awkward and dark-haired. People always commented, always stared.” But Grace isn’t interested in being more like her mom, a noted local broadcaster who goes by GG Carter. Instead, Grace has a passion for space and dreams of being an astrophysicist. “I took on our differences as if I’d chosen them all, and soon enough it felt like I had.”
When GG disappears, Grace’s entire world is thrown off-kilter. It’s not clear whether her mother has run away or been abducted, whether she’s alive or dead. Grace and her family find themselves at the centre of a police investigation. Grace’s grandmother – a semi-famous actress – moves in. As the days stretch into weeks, Grace’s life is reduced to a constant state of stress, worry, and anticipation as she struggles with friendships, a tentative romance, and the question of what happened to her mother.
Despite the mystery at the core of the narrative, The Center of the Universe doesn’t get bogged down in kid-detective tropes. Instead, its focus is on the characters themselves. Voros evokes fully rendered portraits from what seem, initially, to be stock characters: the annoying little brother; the glamorous, irritating grande dame. The dialogue is sharp and unforced, and the novel unfolds in a calm, measured pace, closer to a work of adult literary fiction than to a typical YA thriller.
Voros shifts easily between Grace’s worlds – home, school, astronomy group – and the larger realms into which she is thrown, including the police investigation and the local news circus. Watching Grace learn to navigate these upheavals, find her footing, and grow in imperceptible ways page-by-page is a genuine pleasure.