COSMIC CONUNDRUM (Serafina Loves Science #1) by Cara Bartek, Ph.D. | Book Review

What if an eccentric eleven-year-old genius/absent-minded professor waiting to happen competed with a social media maven meangirl for a place on a mission to Mars?

COSMIC CONUNDRUM is the first in Cara Bartek, Ph.D.’s new Middle-Grade Serafina Loves Science series of information-heavy fiction that reads as semi-satirical to an adult.

Thank you to Kidlit Exchange and Absolute Love Publishing for the ARC.

Eleven-year-old eccentric genuis and mismatched shoe aficionado Serafina Sterling gets accepted to Musgrave Space Adventure, “the Ivy League of Space Camps”. There, she will compete with under-13 geniuses from around the world to be on the future crew of a 2030 mission to Mars.

But first Serafina must impress billionaire inventor Jeronimo Musgrave, basically a green-haired and humbler version of Elon Musk (who may have had an alien encounter in Los Alamos). Oh, and defeat social media darling Ida Hammer, who dresses like a cross between Buzz Aldrin and Ke$ha and pals around with Ryan Gosling and Neil deGrasse Tyson on Instagram.

When Serafina finds herself “Stephanie” to Jeronimo and her allegedly basic anti-loneliness machine the target of a vicious social media bullying campaign, she has to examine others’ motives and learn to believe in herself.

Cara Bartek, Ph.D.’s blog is a (less magniloquent) must-read for kids interested in STEM – My son is the one who submits all those questions about farting, which “Serafina” handles with wisdom, grace, and organic chemistry.


This book is written by a Ph.D., about child geniuses, and it shows. With words like morphology, cyanoacralates, and empirical throughout and discussions of Newton’s laws, this is not a book for reluctant readers. But hey, no book is “for everyone” unless you really suck at writing query letters.

Serafina appears to befriend bully Ida at the end of the book, which isn’t usually safe, a smart idea, or an attainable goal in real life.


One of the main takeaways from this book is the Socio-Emotional Learning (SEL) that is not emphasized enough in schools or the workplace.

From the cruelty-free body lotion of Seraphina’s neighbor, to the over-the-top candy binges in the Musgrave Space Adventure dorms, to blinged-out zero-gravity fidget spinners presented as a way to save humanity, most of the characters in COSMIC CONUNDRUM are ridiculously and unapologetically over-the top, and it’s hilarious.

Give to: fans of Jess Keating’s Elements of Genius series (review linked here), or frankly any kid too smart for their own good.

Absolute Love was kind enough to provide the sequel as well, so tune in tomorrow, same time, same top-level domain to see my review of Serafina Loves Science #2: QUANTUM QUAGMIRE.


Post contains affiliate links. All opinions are my own.

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