The rocket ship structure at the local park symbolizes Quan and his hopes for the future. When the novel opens, the park and the rocket ship are new and shiny—which isn’t all that different from nine-year-old Quan. At this point, he’s a young kid poised for success, as he’s doing well in school and has the support of his Daddy. And in tough times—like when Dwight abuses Mama and threatens Quan, Dasia, or Gabe with violence—the rocket ship provides Quan a place to escape. In the ship, Quan can imagine blasting off somewhere happy and safe. The fact that he’s able to do this suggests that, at this age, Quan still has hope for his future. He still believes that if he dreams hard enough, he can have as bright of a future as Daddy says he does.
However, like Quan, the rocket ship struggles from the beginning. It soon becomes a favored spot of drug users or couples looking for a private spot to have sex, so much of Quan’s time at the rocket ship includes carefully cleaning up hypodermic needles and used condoms. Around this time, Daddy is arrested and things begin to go downhill for Quan. With Daddy gone and Mama busy dealing with Dwight’s abuse, Quan feels unsupported; he begins to act out and stops trying so hard to succeed in school. In the days after his first arrest, Quan escapes to the rocket ship. But it’s there that Quan meets Trey, the older boy who ushers Quan into premature adulthood by convincing him to join the Black Jihad gang.
In the days after Dwight’s death, Quan discovers that the rocket ship has been removed from the park. Seeing its absence makes it clear to Quan that his childhood is permanently over. With the rocket ship gone, there’s nothing now to facilitate Quan’s imaginings of flying away to a better place or a better life. This is especially true since he knows that Martel, a fellow gang member, was the one who had Dwight murdered as a favor to Quan and his mother. The rocket ship’s absence, then, seems fitting: Quan is stuck in the Black Jihad gang with no way of escape, even an imaginary one, because he now owes Martel a major debt for getting rid of Mama’s abuser. In this way, Quan’s childhood effectively ends, and he feels like what comes next—being incarcerated—is inevitable.
The Rocket Ship Quotes in Dear Justyce
So he told Mama—who for the first time wasn’t healing from a COAN encounter—that he was going out.
And he headed to his former favorite playground place.
Stepping over the latest evidence of unsavory activity inside his rocket ship (at least there wouldn’t be any babies or diseases?), Quan climbed up to the observation deck. Largely to hide himself from anyone who might take issue with/make fun of an almost-thirteen-year-old hanging out in the grounded space vessel.
But once he got up there, Quan relaxed so much, he fell asleep.
Trey couldn’t have known it (or maybe he could’ve?), but in that moment, Quan didn’t actually want to be alone.
He needed a friend.
Someone who cared.
Because from the moment Mama and Quan had stepped out of the fluorescent-lit law-and-order lair into the crisp Georgia evening, it was crystal clear to Quan that she no longer did.
“It’s this ceremony where a young Jewish dude becomes ‘accountable for his actions.’” He used air quotes. “So he goes from ‘boy’ to ‘man,’ essentially. Lawyer homie is sitting there all geeked, telling me about it, and I’m thinking to myself: So your son is a grown man by Jewish standards, yet still gets treated like a kid. Meanwhile ain’t no ceremonies for kids like us, but if we get in trouble we get treated like adults.”
Quan’s gaze drops. Lands on a word carved into one of the bench’s wooden slats in little-kid lettering:
F U K C
What are kids like Quan supposed to do?
He swipes at his dampening eyes and shifts them back to the black hole where his galactic getaway vehicle used to be.
Dwight is dead.
And Quan is here. Stuck. Grounded.
No getting out.
No flying away.
No lifting off.
Because Dwight’s death wasn’t an accident.
“You miss [the rocket ship]?”
At first, Quan doesn’t respond. Because he really has to think about it. His eyes roam the always-clean park space. Touch on his mom [...] his sister [...] his brother [...] his best friend right beside him.
Only thing missing is his dad. But they write to each other weekly, and Quan’s been out to visit the old man a few times, so even that’s okay.
He smiles. “You know what, man? I don’t.”
“Nah,” Quan says. “No need to go to outer space.”
“Everything I need is right here.”