Alienated (Alienated #1) by Melissa Landers
Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Release date: February 4 2014
Source: e-ARC via NetGalley
The nitty-gritty: A funny and sometimes charming story that shines a light on some important issues, but ultimately felt more like a middle grade book to me.
From the moment I spotted the intriguing cover for Alienated, I started counting the days until I could read it. The idea of a student exchange program with an alien from another planet had me hooked. And while there were parts of Alienated I really enjoyed, my overall reaction to the book was mostly puzzlement. Maybe I’m just too old for this book, because between the unappealing slang and the sometimes silly dialog I felt as if I had stumbled upon a middle grade story that was disguised as young adult. Yes, the characters are seventeen and eighteen, and yes, they face some very important issues that are perfect story fodder for teens. But for me, the characters acted younger than their ages, which affected my enjoyment of the story. Add to these issues the sketchy scientific reasoning behind the world Landers has created, and you have a book that left me frustrated.
Cara Sweeney has just been selected as an ambassador for an alien exchange program. In exchange for hosting a L’eihr student and later visiting his planet herself, Cara will receive an ungodly amount of scholarship money to attend the college of her choice. Tempting, yes? What Cara doesn’t realize is that many people in her hometown hate the L’eihrs and the idea of sharing planet Earth with aliens. Cara reluctantly welcomes L’eihr hotty Aelyx into her home, but she’s determined to make this odd exchange work. She tirelessly tries to find food that Aelyx will like and shows him the ropes at school, even as her classmates start to turn ugly and protest Aelyx’s presence in town. Lines are clearly drawn as more and more townspeople cross over and join HALO: Humans Against L’eihr Occupation.
As Cara and Aelyx become closer, the dangers of being a L’eihr supporter increase. And is Aelyx hiding something from Cara? How will this mission of peace turn out? And who exactly can be trusted?
I want to start with the things I really liked about Alienated. One of my favorite parts was the blog that Cara starts to document her experiences with hosting an alien. She calls her blog, appropriately enough, “Alienated”, which I loved! Blog entries are interspersed with the rest of the third-person story, and although they don’t make or break the story, it was fun to see how many hits and followers she had (millions!), and I enjoyed the change of tone as her life with Aelyx started to get complicated (and dangerous).
The author sends a clear message about tolerance and acceptance and shines a light on just how damaging xenophobia is and how it can spiral out of control. I think including this theme was a particularly smart idea, although honestly, the story could have been about an exchange student from, say, the Middle East, and it would have been just as effective.
What caught me off-guard with Alienated was the voice of Cara. The POV was strange for me. It’s told in third person and alternates between Cara’s and Aelyx’s points-of-view, but this third person “narrator” uses lots of slang, and so I felt as if I were reading a first person story. Cara’s vocabulary includes such lovely words as “skeeved,” “jerkwagon,” “blow chunks,” and “full-on banana sandwich.” (WTF?) Like I mentioned before, I may just be too old for this book, but the constant use of this type of slang was off-putting to me.
In general, the characters felt clichéd, and I was especially disappointed that I didn’t like the character of Aelyx more. The L’eihrs are described as a race of people who have had all emotions bred out of them over thousands of years. They live in a dull brown and gray environment, wear dull beige clothing that matches their dull skin tone, and basically have had the life sucked out of them so that they’re all the same. When Aelyx comes to Earth, he’s blinded by the variety of colors, smells and tastes, and he has a hard time adjusting. Basically, he’s an uptight, unemotional guy who I found extremely unattractive.
Two other male characters completely offended me. Cara’s boyfriend Eric was a stereotypical horny teen who was constantly trying to get Cara to have sex with him. (Thankfully that relationship didn’t last long). I also hated Cara’s brother Troy, who isn’t in the story much, but when he is he’s constantly insulting his sister. Worse, Cara sees his insults as an act of brotherly love, which I just didn’t understand. Even Cara’s best friend Tori wasn’t likeable. Not only does she start going out with Eric after he breaks up with Cara, but she deserts Cara just when she needs a friend the most, by joining HALO and trying to get Aelyx to go home.
I won’t say much about the “science” in this science fiction story, except to say that it felt as if Landers was just throwing out random ideas. Things like L’eihrs having only four toes on each foot, and the idea that humans all started with brown eyes just felt, well, random! Let’s just say the science wasn’t cohesive enough for me to buy into this alien society.
What I did like was the transformation of the L’eihr exchange students, as they acclimate to Earth’s peculiarities and start to feel at home. Aelyx and his fellow L’eihrians Eron and Syrine are clearly up to something sneaky when the story begins, but little by little they mostly change their minds as they begin to like the humans they’re hanging with. I especially loved Eron’s story (although brief) as he bonds with his little human “brother” and comes to love him.
The story gets violent near the end, which I found a bit jarring, and although the author ties most things up, she does leave us with a clear picture of what will happen in the next book. Will I go along for that ride? I’m not sure. If you’re going to read Alienated, my best advice is to not take the book too seriously.
Many thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.
You can find Alienated here: