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The care and feeding of a pet black hole
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Chapter One ✶ The Mysterious Something That Followed Me Home This story began on an afternoon the color of comets, with a girl dressed all in black. A sad girl. A girl with a hole in her heart, and darkness on the horizon. That girl, of course, was me. "My name is Stella Rodriguez," I told the guard at the gates to NASA. "I'm eleven years old. I'm here to speak with Carl Sagan." It was late, almost dark, and I was alone. You and Mom would not have approved. The guard looked up as if he'd heard an annoying mosquito, decided he imagined it, and went back to reading his magazine. "Actually," I tried again, "I'm Carl Sagan's great-great-great-great-granddaughter, and I'm here at NASA to tell him that in the future we've invented time travel!" "Please go away," said the guard. "But I have an appointment . . ." "No," said the guard, "you definitely don't." " Fine, okay, maybe I don't!" I said, a bit too loudly. "But if you take into consideration chaos theory or the butterfly effect, the very notion of long-term predictions--for example, an appointment --becomes an absurd impossibility. Time--" But before I could continue trying to sound scholarly, an ear-piercing alarm started ringing. Lights began flashing, and I could hear shouts from inside the building. "Okay," I said, putting up my hands. "Let's all just take it easy. I'll go peacefully. No need for alarms. I'm too bookish for prison!" But the guard wasn't paying attention to me. He grabbed his phone and started shouting, something about code reds and protocol, and before I knew what was happening he had run inside, leaving the gate wide open. I wish I were the type of person who would sneak​ into NASA during a molecular-robot-alien-rocket-invasion-​​explosion. But you know very well I'm not that type. Not even close. I'm more of a chicken-liver-jellyfish-fraidy-cat type. And so I left. I left without seeing Carl Sagan, or giving him the important package I'd come to deliver. Time was of the essence, since the Voyager launch date--August 20, 1977--was mere months away. Avoiding the alarms at NASA, I went to the bus stop and waited. It was the last moment of light, and I had a strange feeling. Like when you sense a breeze on your ankles in a room with no open windows or doors. Like when you're sure you can see a face in the moon, and it's staring right at you. Like when you're the seeker during hide-and-seek, and you just know you're being watched through a closet keyhole. I darted my eyes from side to side, looking in the bushes and up at the trees. I didn't see anything anywhere but dusk. And so I was understandably relieved when the bus came around the bend. That is, until I got on the bus, and things started to get even stranger, if possible. "My wallet!" shouted a businesswoman. "Someone stole my wallet!" Everyone scanned the bus for a shady-looking character. "And where's my toupee?" asked an elderly man. This continued for three more stops, shouts of Where's my lunch? and Who took my pet frog? To get off the bus, I had to weather an obstacle course of people on their hands and knees searching for something-or-other under their seats. The stop was only a few minutes from home, but it felt like miles. I mean, what was going on?! The dusk had turned to straight-up gloom, which wasn't good because by that point I had a severe case of the creeps, a heebie-jeebie fever, and a touch of the willies. I'm not afraid of the dark--you know that from all our time spent stargazing--but the minute I started walking, I got goose bumps down my arms and legs and all the way up my neck. I had such a case of the jumps that I'm pretty sure I had goose bumps on my eyeballs, which, by the way, were not helping because in a matter of minutes it had gone from almost-dark-outside-gloom to dark-at-the-bottom-of-a-pocket. I looked from side to side. "Who's there?" I asked. No one answered. Has anyone in any scary movie ever answered that question? Oh, glad you asked, it's me the axe murderer. Dang it! That was actually supposed to be a surprise . . . So I did what anyone in my position would do. I started to run. Fast. I ran through the dark-like-the-muck-down-a-drain, I sprinted through the dark-as-the-inside-of-a-whale. I didn't hear footsteps or twigs breaking behind me, but the feeling was becoming stronger. Someone was lingering just out of view. I was being watched. I was being followed. But by who? Or, worse still . . . by what?   Chapter Two ✶ Hello, Darkness WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?! YOU WERE SUPPOSED TO BE WATCHING ME UNTIL MOM GETS HOME. I COULD HAVE EATEN GLUE OR SOMETHING!" That shrill voice belonged, of course, to Cosmo. A fitting name given that he's a total space cadet of a five-year-old brother. "Shhhhh!" I said. "Help me batten down the hatches and secure the premises." I ran around locking doors, closing all the window shades, and turning off the lights. I peered out through a crack in the front curtains. It had begun to rain and it was hard to see whatever monster had been following me home. "This is fun," whispered a voice behind me. "What are we doing?" I looked down at Cosmo. He squeezed his little hands in excitement. " Did you eat glue?" "No," he replied sheepishly. "Good," I said, "very mature. Come on, I'll make us some dinner." After fear-flavored grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup eaten in almost-dark, I told Cosmo I was going to do my homework, but really I just needed some alone time to think. I put on my fuzzy blue robe with the stars on it, and stared out my bedroom window on the second floor, trying to get a better view of the front yard. I tried using my telescope, but it just made me sad. Extra sad. Sadder than my lingering, everyday fog. It had been our father-daughter thing, just you and me, but now you're gone and there are monsters in the yard and everything is wrong. I sat slumped with my chin on the windowsill. A raindrop slid down the glass like a tiny shooting star. "I wish," I said, closing my eyes, "that I could make everything awful just . . . disappear." When I opened my eyes, I caught a glimpse of something outside, just for a moment, before it darted into a cardboard box near the trash cans on the curb. "Huh?" I asked. I used my hand to clear the fog from the glass. Yes, there was definitely something in the box, something small, and dark, and shivering. A kitten, I thought, trying to convince myself that I had seen the flash of whiskers and flick of a tail. Armed with rain boots and a flashlight, I made my way outside. Luckily, Cosmo had gone to his room and wasn't around to bug me. "It's just a cat or a stray dog," I said to myself as I crept across the yard and through the rain. "Here, kitty kitty," I said as I got closer. "Please don't be a skunky skunky." I moved slowly and carefully, trying to see the critter. But when my flashlight lit up the inside of the box, what I saw was not a kitten or pup. It wasn't even a skunk. What it was was . . . darkness. I stumbled back away from the box, tripped on the curb, and dropped the flashlight. When I finally retrieved it, my hands were shaking as I aimed it back at what I thought I'd seen. The thing inside was gone! I flailed the light around wildly, and found the creature, creeping closer and closer toward me. It didn't seem to have legs or arms. It was just a blob of darkness no bigger than a rabbit--but not regular darkness, no. This was dark like the dark inside an old, closed book--except with two eyes. Eyes that shimmered, and seemed to have tiny galaxies inside of them. "ACK!" I yelled, pointing at the thing. The thing, in response, looked behind it to see what was so scary. "Stay back!" I said. But every time I took a step away, the creature crept a little closer to me. In fact, from the way it moved and the look in its eyes, I got the craziest feeling: I think it wants me to pet it. But I'm not insane. Instead, I threw my flashlight at it, hoping it would run away. To my shock, though, the flashlight didn't hit the creature; it just disappeared completely inside the thing. The flashlight was there one moment, and gone the next, absorbed without a trace. "What in the world . . . ?" I asked. And then, in the dim glow of the streetlamp, the creature gave a very unceremonious, light-filled . . . burp.   Chapter Three ✶ Things I Know About the Thing You're probably wondering what I did after the creature from the cardboard box swallowed my flashlight, aren't you? Did I run? Call the National Guard? Faint? Well, I did what I thought you would do. I invited it inside, out of the rain. "So this is my room," I explained. "It's small, but it's home." I hadn't yet touched the creature. Once I started walking backward toward the house, it just sort of followed me. It didn't seem dangerous, but then again, how would I know? Maybe it was lulling me into a sense of security with those big, needy eyes, and was going to devour me any minute. The thing had started swallowing stuff in my room--nothing important, just dust bunnies and some of Cosmo's unidentifiable "works of art" that he'd drawn for me. I dumped out a jar of pennies and scattered them around, hoping that would keep the thing busy while I made a list.   Things I Know About the Thing Very, very dark No hands or legs, just a blob Has eyes, I think The eyes look like little galaxies Swallows Absorbs Disappears anything it wants Likes to eat flashlights, dust, poorly executed artwork, pennies Docile (so far) Seems to want to be touched???   My first thought was ALIEN . It's an extraterrestrial being that escaped from NASA and followed me home. But from everything I knew about aliens, they were usually green, had arms and legs, and didn't want to be petted like a puppy. I pointed to a poster of the Milky Way on my wall. "Is that your home?" I asked. "Outer space?" The creature didn't seem to recognize the galaxy as its place of residence or, if it did, was more interested in consuming all of my left shoes one by one. I looked and looked through all of my science books, trying to find anything that resembled this creature. And then, in a book about theoretical astronomy, I found this: Black holes form when a massive star dies and collapses into itself. Because of the relationship between mass and gravity, this means they have an extremely powerful gravitational force. Virtually nothing can escape. Even light is trapped by a black hole. A black hole is a dark center of gravity that swallows everything in its path. Was that the answer? Am I , I wondered, the proud owner of a pet black hole? Excerpted from The Care and Feeding of a Pet Black Hole by Michelle Cuevas All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.
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Trade Reviews
Publishers Weekly Review
It's the summer of 1977, and after 11-year-old Stella Rodriguez visits NASA in a fruitless attempt to meet Carl Sagan, a black hole follows her home. Stella names him Larry, and although he tends to swallow everything around him, she realizes that he's just trying to cuddle. But after he consumes a treasured photo of her late father she explodes in anger, causing Larry to run away. Cuevas (Confessions of an Imaginary Friend) carefully balances an energetic plot full of silliness (at one point, Stella and her younger brother get sucked into the black hole themselves, an escapade that fittingly unfolds in white print on black pages) with more introspective concerns. Stella confronts the darkness literally and figuratively as she weighs the pros and cons of keeping a black hole as a pet: sure, he can swallow up the bad things in life, but he also takes away the good. Cuevas doesn't skirt the depths of sadness surrounding the death of a parent nor the difficulty of reconstructing one's sense of home afterward. Sketchlike b&w line drawings appear throughout. Ages 8-12. Agent: Emily van Beek, Folio Literary Management. (Sept.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
School Library Journal Review
Gr 4-8-Quirky 11-year-old Stella Rodriguez attempts to get an audience with Carl Sagan in order to send a unique cassette of Earth sounds into space on the Voyager. Instead, a black hole follows her home. She attempts to train it using dog-training manuals and finds it willingly swallows all memories connected with her late father, her annoying brother's talking tub-toy and child-like drawings, and the awful sweaters that her aunt always gives her. When it accidentally swallows the new puppy, she and her brother enter the black hole to retrieve it. Self-discovery combines with adventure to a satisfying conclusion. Stella's knowledge of astronomy serves as a springboard to work through the grieving process. Cuevas's techniques include time disruptions, imaginary creatures, and one-sided conversations with the deceased dad that provide a distinctive story. Only audio listeners are treated to the eerily vacuum-sounding narration when Stella first enters the black hole. Laura Ortiz narrates capably. VERDICT Recommended purchase for both elementary and middle schools.-Deb Whitbeck, formerly with West Ottawa Public Schools, Holland, MI © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Booklist Review
An innocent trip to NASA takes an unpredictable turn when a black hole follows 10-year-old Stella Rodriguez home. Stella's mission had been to give Carl Sagan a recording of her father's laughter to be used on the Voyager Golden Record, the ultimate memorial, but instead of a meeting with Sagan, she's ended up with the world's weirdest pet. For the most part, Larry (short for Singularity) is quiescent, calmly absorbing things that cross his path, learning the odd command from Stella, and sleeping at the foot of her bed. One desperate night, he becomes a receptacle for all the items that painfully remind Stella of her father, with unforeseen consequences. After Larry accidentally eats the family's dog, Stella stages a rescue that launches her and her little brother into the black hole's inky abyss. As much a journey of grief and healing as literal adventure, Cuevas' story is both touching and funny. Stella must confront her feelings about her beloved father's death, and in the process, she learns to appreciate the family she has left.--Smith, Julia Copyright 2017 Booklist
Horn Book Review
Eleven-year-old Stella is coping with her father's death when a black hole follows her home from a trip to NASA and eats everything in its path, including the family dog and Stella's memories. Cuevas delicately balances wild sci-fi with tremendous respect for her grieving heroine; illustrations and design choices (black pages with white text denote action inside the black hole) enhance the imaginative story. (c) Copyright 2018. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Kirkus Review
Instead of a lost kitten, 11-year-old Stella "Bug" Rodriguez rescues a black hole she names Larry ("short for Singularity, which I'd read is a place of infinite gravity at the heart of a black hole").For a lonely, precocious, science-loving girl who idolizes Carl Sagan, nothing could be betterat least, at first. Soon the chaos of the actual black hole forces Stella to confront the metaphorical black hole of sadness left by the death of her father. Her intense griefequaled only by her fear of confronting it head oncontrasts with the wacky humor of a slightly domesticated black hole that consumes everything, including Stinky Stu, the class hamster, a neighbor's garden gnomes, and the new family puppy. Stella and her little brother, Cosmo, embark on a surreal journey, printed in white type on a black background, through Larry's depths in search of the dog, ordering up what they need as if Larry were a cosmic, malfunctioning Siri (" LAMPS!" we shouted. "NOT STAMPS. LAMPS! SWALLOW LIGHT. LIGHT!" A moment later we saw a kite sail by"). Throughout the book Stella addresses her father directly as "you," a potent reminder of the fresh intensity of her loss. Set in 1977, this quirky story is enhanced by charming pen-and-ink illustrations. Aside from Stella's surname, which suggests the family is Latinx, race and ethnicity are unspecified. An original tale of family love, scientific passion, and a truly epic journey of self-discovery. (Fantasy. 8-12) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
A girl's friendship with a lonely black hole leads her to face her own sadness in this original, funny, and touching middle grade novel for fans of Crenshaw and Flora & Ulysses .

When eleven-year-old Stella Rodriguez shows up at NASA to request that her recording be included in Carl Sagan's Golden Record, something unexpected happens: A black hole follows her home, and sets out to live in her house as a pet. The black hole swallows everything he touches, which is challenging to say the least--but also turns out to be a convenient way to get rid of those items that Stella doesn't want around. Soon the ugly sweaters her aunt has made for her all disappear within the black hole, as does the smelly class hamster she's taking care of, and most important, all the reminders of her dead father that are just too painful to have around.

It's not until Stella, her younger brother, Cosmo, the family puppy, and even the bathroom tub all get swallowed up by the black hole that Stella comes to realize she has been letting her own grief consume her. And that's not the only thing she realizes as she attempts to get back home. This is an astonishingly original and funny adventure with a great big heart.
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