Book Review: “The Gravity of Us”

Phil Stamper’s first-ever novel mixes romance and social commentary on reality tv into a dazzling combination.

Book+Review%3A+%22The+Gravity+of+Us%22

by Iris Roddy, Writer

“The Gravity of Us” by Phil Stamper first popped up on my radar during winter break while I researched new book releases for 2020. I thought a cute, NASA-filled, boy-meets-boy romance/coming-of-age tale seemed like a good way to start off my reading for the year, and I couldn’t have been more right.

The protagonist, Calvin, is an upcoming journalist with a large fanbase on the social media platform FlashTime. Despite his success online, Cal’s fame doesn’t go to his head and he genuinely wants to make a difference in the world. He has spent years building up his credibility as a honest, no-nonsense albeit amateur reporter, but when his dad is recruited by NASA to help with a mission to Mars, he must up and move to Texas. Cal has to leave behind the city he’s known all his life along with his best friend, Deb.

Understandably, he’s very upset. To top it all off, StarWatch, the reality tv show linked with NASA, informs the family that no public video transmissions can be made now that they’re all a part of the company. Cal no longer has his FlashTime. But Calvin Lewis is anything but a quitter; like a stereotypical rebellious teen he vows never to let StarWatch control him and posts another video. The aftermath makes for a very entertaining read.

StarWatch has almost complete control over their filming subjects’ lives by choosing only their best and worst moments to broadcast. Cal’s act of defiance disrupts this power dynamic. The astronauts are so afraid of saying or doing something wrong that they are completely different people on camera; it’s like a switch is turning them on and off. Leon, Cal’s love interest, has had to alternate between being a normal teen and being the astronaut’s “perfect kid” while on camera for years, and it’s worn him down. Cal’s new experiences show the struggle of trying to live your life when everyone’s watching.

One great example of this is when astronaut’s wife Mara Bannon loses her husband in a plane crash. Within a few hours, StarWatch’s cameras, crew, and host swarm her to get clips of a broken woman grieving and being comforted by her fellow stars. Cal was so appalled they were taking advantage of her this way that he filmed a part when the host asked the widow to cry more, and posted it on FlashTime. The interview made a great point: on reality shows, you really only see what they want you to see. 

StarWatch is really only in it to get views and make money. They don’t care if they do this by ruining people’s lives, and Cal learns this firsthand when a statement he made is taken out of context, framing him in a bad light. That one sound clip severely damaged his credibility as a journalist all because StarWatch needed to keep their viewers entertained. 

I generally dislike romance-heavy novels, but Stamper did such an amazing job balancing the romance with other aspects that it didn’t hijack the entire plot. I found it quite heart-warming. Cal and Leon, despite being different, have a very sweet, easy-going relationship once they get together. While it took off rather quickly, it seemed like their feeling separate and alone because of StarWatch created a sort of bond between them, a bond that only grew as they got to know each other.

What made this really a coming-of-age tale was Cal’s messing up his relationships—in the real world and online—and struggling to make everything right. He was sometimes a downright crappy friend and often put his own problems ahead of everyone else’s (I think at this point the cameras and online attention were going to his head a bit), but his caring personality and persistence to make things right made for some sweet, making-up moments.

Stamper does a great job balancing the romantic subplot with his commentary on reality tv. The combination makes for a light yet interesting read. Because of this, I give it 5/5 stars.