Theo had lots of questions about lots of things, but the most important question was for his mom: Where is Dad, and why won't you talk about him? His dad went to Vietnam five years ago, and he never came home. He was MIA, missing in action. It was rule number two at their house: Don't talk about Dad. Ever.
Every year on his birthday, Theo got two things — a dollar bill for every year he'd lived, and a package with an unsigned card and a model plane inside. Theo knew it was supposed to be from his dad, but no one ever said so. But on his twelfth birthday, the card was signed "Happy birthday, from your dad." It was handwriting Theo recognized, JeeBee, his grandmother, his dad's mother. When he asked her about it, she said she thought he might like to know about his dad, and she was willing to tell him, but he couldn't tell his mom or his sister. She even gave Theo the letters his dad had written to her when he was in Vietnam.
That's when Theo began to realize just how many secrets there were in his life. His mom had secrets about his dad. He was keeping secrets from his mom and his sister. Even JeeBee was keeping secret where she went every Saturday. And the more Theo learns about his dad, the more questions he has, and the more secrets he has to keep.
There are lots of questions at school, too. Theo's science teacher has given his class a project. It's 1977, and the Voyager probes are about to be launched, each one carrying a golden record, a message in pictures and sounds from the people of Earth to any extraterrestrials that might find it. Theo's class is going to make their own record of what Earth is like. Everyone will have to turn in a one-minute tape recording and one picture to represent what they think is the most important thing for someone from another planet to know about the Earth. So Theo's thinking about the questions Mr. Meyer is asking too. Who are we? Where do we live? What do we do? How are we different? What makes something or someone important?
He has fourteen days to come up with his answers, take a picture and make a recording. But what he doesn't know is that his answers to Mr. Meyers' questions might also answer some of the questions Theo has about his dad.