Max Jones lives in a future America where technology is advanced and space travel to distant stars is a reality. Max’s uncle had been an astrogator on a starship, a highly skilled and valued position right below the captain, and had left Max his astrogation manual and a promise to vouch for him with his guild when he was old enough. But both Max’s uncle and father are gone, and his mother has remarried a man Max hates. The boy runs away from his rural farm home heading for the nearest spaceport where he hopes to begin a career as an astrogation trainee. Sadly, when he asks at the guild headquarters, he finds his uncle had not left any word about him. A man named Sam that Max met on the road had stolen his astrogation manual and tried to use it to gain entry to the guild himself. That didn’t work, and both man and boy meet again outside. Max is reluctant to take help from Sam, but has no where else to turn. An apologetic Sam helps Max find food and shelter, and soon manages to get illegal access for both of them as crew on a departing starship, the Asgard. While spending many months on the ship in menial jobs, Max gradually makes friends, learns all about space travel, and eventually becomes the astrogation trainee he dreamed of, but not without many difficulties and roadblocks to overcome. Max is helped by his unusual memory that allows him to remember everything he reads exactly. When the ship goes off-course and is lost, Max will have a crucial role in the crew’s last hope for a return home after the planet they find is not as welcoming as it first seems.
I loved this book when first reading it, and have loved it every reading since, this is probably at least the fourth. Of the Heinlein juvenile series of novels for young readers, this is one of the most appealing. Any reader can understand and empathize with Max’s hopes, fears and dreams, and Heinlein makes it a pleasure to root for him. The characters are appealing (or horrible as required), and the insights into human nature are spot on. The science is dated, but it’s easy to overlook that and go with the flow.
Reviews of other Heinlein books can be found on the Book Reviews page of my blog.