Laugh-out-loud funny and emotionally relatable.
Most of the time when teenagers feel alienated, it’s because they haven’t found their niche: they’re running in that in-between zone that doesn’t fit the cliques or stereotypes of their school or culture or region.
Cara, in contrast, is at the top of her game. She’s not driven by “the crowd” but she’s not self-isolated or socially inexperienced either. She’s got a workable plan for her future, and becoming a world-famous host can only help that plan.
It’s because of her personal drive and ambition, along with her killer public speaking skills (she’s captain of the debate team, too) that she’s considered the ideal host for an intergalactic exchange-student program. While her older brother goes to live on another planet, one of that planet’s young people comes to live in Cara’s home.
(Potential spoilers ahead: read at your own risk.)
Aelyx is not impressed by earth, the family he is forced to live with, or the unnecessary extravagance of color and energy that now surrounds him. His plan is to get kicked off of earth as soon as possible, and return to the familiarity of home.
These established personalities and the process of their growing closer to each other (come on, this can’t possibly be a spoiler in a YA book!) makes for an enjoyable story, while raising some worthwhile social issues.
Aelyx’s success in getting people to distrust him results in the systematic isolation of everyone who cares about him. The portrayal of community-wide mobbing was unnerving and believable.
Mobbing is a phenomenon of bullying on a systemic scale, supported at multiple levels of hierarchy: the grunts, the peers, the overseers, working together to practically, physically, and emotionally shut out the individuals that don’t fit the expectations of the majority.
By establishing a vivacious, outgoing personality in Cara, the author did an effective job of showing how devastating such mobbing can be, before it ever turns physically violent.
- In this story we have a vivacious redhead bringing a gray planet’s model citizen emotionally to life, and that may be too cliche for some people. On the other hand, familiarity doesn’t need to breed contempt, and I especially enjoyed how hard Cara worked to find him food that was “bland” enough. It was a nice example of acceptance and real hospitality.
- Cara’s boyfriend is sexually pushy, and while that’s used to show how he’s not a great guy, the main characters eventually get handsy, and it’s played straight– i.e., they aren’t being creeps.
- The emotional mobbing eventually becomes a physical mob. Lives are risked, lost, and people get hurt.
- Teenagers make major life-decisions that are probably non-reversible. The significance is addressed, though, and not passed over lightly.
Things I enjoyed:
- A solid contrast between the two worlds.
- The use of different technologies and foods, and communication styles was internally consistent and solid
- The (painfully) accurate portrayal of a community shutting out its own. It’s so specific and deliberate and chilling.
- No sex in the story (yes, I care about that)
- Parents who are obviously in love (with a great in-story acknowledgement of it)
- Parents who are involved with their kids’ lives without being jerks
- The Googling of how-to-kiss. Cracked me up.
- Fabulous arguing-in-front-of-others moment broken up by the crunching of popcorn.
- The motivation of the aliens in connecting to the “primitive” people on earth.
- Related to that the flip-flop/wishy-washy of yes we want our (grey planet) kids to hook up with your (Earth) kids, no wait that’s sick, no wait, it’s a viable plan.
- The growing bitterness of the female exchange student, based on the non-stop sexual harassment she endured in her earth placement. This is portrayed as negative, but never addressed by any authority figures. I couldn’t tell if that was commentary on misogynistic culture, or the result of the girl never reporting it.
- The we-want-out-CRAP-they-want-us-out confusion/inconsistency.
(This book was provided by the publisher free for my review through Netgalley.com)