Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Analyzing an alien exchange student

Ready to fall in love with your alien (yes, bonafide extra terrestrial) exchange student? Alienated, by Melissa Landers, releases today. This story is a sleek mix of American high school hijinks, romance, civil unrest and Star Trek Vulcan-ish culture-clash... without being as overwhelming as this sentence is.

Cara Sweeny, soon-to-be valedictorian and debate team queen, agrees to host an alien exchange student. It's been two years since the aliens made contact with Earth, and everything about them is still very mysterious and unnerving, even though they have the same DNA as humans. Even though they've provided a universal cure for cancer.

This post is going to be part book review, part analysis of writing technique, and part sheer jumping up and down in delight. I LOVED this book. It started me laughing in the first chapter and kept me smiling through out, even though it tackles some tough issues and includes some very tense scenes. Cara and her alien exchange student, Aelyx, are a pair you love to see clash. They make each other uncomfortable and frustrated and yet they still manage to grow on each other.

Okay, now that I've totally sold you on the book (wait, you're not sold yet? Please proceed to the review section with excerpts and tidbits that will surely delight you and win you over), the writer side of me has to point out a really well executed dual-point-of-view take off in this book.

The book starts off in Cara's point of view as she discovers she and her family have been selected to host an alien exchange student. She's shocked, (why me???), and justifiably concerned. This is going to change her life. But ultimately she knows it will be worth it, as a unique experience and unprecedented chance to learn about a new, um, culture. It's a great hook for starting a story and Cara's inner dialogue is hilarious, I immediately knew I liked this girl. She's smart and full of quips.

But then, just as I'm getting settled in to Cara's point of view, bam! the point of view switches to Aelyx as he leaves his planet, heading to Earth, and not at all happy about being selected to go there.

Now, this was a seriously risky writing move, because you're putting the reader into an alien head. It has to be different enough to be convincing (yeah, he really is alien), but still relatable, because if it's too alien, it's going to be a hard read, yanno? Well, trust me, the author pulls it off. But the big advantage with Aelyx's point of view is we immediately discover that he plans to sabotage the peaceful intentions of the exchange program. So when the point of view switches back to Cara, with her being all excited and nervous about her new responsibility, and us knowing it's doomed to fail, it really sets the story up with good page-turning tension.

Okay, enough analyzing and on to more happy rave reviewing.

Alienated starts off light-hearted and fun, mostly set in high school; and boy I was glad Aelyx was coated in his alien superiority because it made him immune to all the pettiness. At the same time I loved his brief moments of vulnerability, like when he flashes Cara a grateful look when she rescues him from a pack of L'annabees, freshman girls obsessed with him to the point of dying their hair and spray-tanning and dressing to look like a L'eihr. Speaking of which, "Friends don't let friends abuse self-tanning spray," is a perfect example of the inner dialogue Cara has with herself that kept me grinning through the first half. 

The second half - or about where Aelyx starts thinking of Cara as Elire - the whole tone of the book shifts into something far more serious and heart-wrenching. I loved Cara's courage (and at the same time I ached for her) as she doggedly sticks by Aelyx when anti-alien sentiment continues to rise at their school, in the town, and even globally. This girl has a big heart, and I just love to see how she cracks open Aelyx's well-bred coldness. 

She also has an eye for beauty, which I don't see often enough in YA lit. 
She lingered on the back steps to watch the sheets of foliage flutter to the ground like sunset-colored rain.

And the second half is where we also get the best dialogue, and repartee between Cara and Aelyx:
"Isn't there anything democratic about life on L'eihr?"

"No." He said is unapologetically, as if equally unimpressed with her government as she was with his.

"And you're really okay with that?"

"Of course."

He had to be lying. "I can't believe it doesn't bother you."

"What doesn't bother me? The corruption within your system of government?" He tapped his textbook as if the proof lay within its pages. "The inefficiency? The uninformed masses choosing whichever candidate made the most outlandish promises?"

"The lack of freedom, wiseass."

"Ah, freedom." He leaned back in his chair and folded his arms, so cocky and sure of himself. "It's overrated."

"How would you know?" she asked. "You've never tasted it."

The tension continues to ratchet upwards both internally and externally, though a couple scenes with Blake the policeman and with the soldiers add some humor to balance things out.

One soldier propped against his Hum-V was even munching popcorn from a Smartfood bag. He nodded for her to continue as if she's pressed the pause button, and now he wanted to resume watching Romancing the Clone.

The science fiction elements of the book were just enough to intrigue and make me itch for more details about Aelyx's planet, their culture, L'eihr space ships, technology and weapons, and it's all introduced in small, well-paced chunks that imparted a lot information without ever overwhelming. 

But my favorite alien touch, (no pun intended), is the part with the pulse rate. In fact, I'm going back to that bookmark right now to re-read it. Oh, and the part where Aelyx was chanting the periodic table... swoon. Mere mention of the periodic table of the elements usually gives me hives, but not so with Aelyx, TRUST ME. 

I loved the ending: the tough choices Aelyx and Cara have to make and the consequences...and discovering the real reason why the L'eihrs sent exchange students to live on Earth. 

Everything in this story resonated with me except one scene in the very beginning, when Cara first meets Aelyx. If that scene bothers you like it bothered me, don't let it keep you from reading more because the book really isn't like that, I promise. 

I received a digital copy of Alienated in exchange for my honest review. I was not paid or in any way compensated for raving about it. I truly, honestly, deeply enjoyed this book. I plan to buy myself a copy to always keep, but thank you to the publisher for giving me a sneak peak.

Sorry this was such a long post, but wow! what a good book. So, your turn...

Are aliens intriguing to you? Or more like, no thank you, let's stick with humans please?


  1. Normally, I'm not into sci-fi or aliens. But you made this sound really cool and intriguing and up my alley (and that was within your first couple of paragraphs). I love the concept of an exchange student and I love how he's planning to mess things up. I've already put it on my TBR list!

  2. This sounds interesting! The POV switch reminds me of reading the middle grade book WONDER for the first time. When the POV switched from the main character to severeal others at various times, I was thrown for a loop (and a little upset...) until I saw later on how the other characters enhanced the story as a whole.

  3. Dual points of view is probably one of the hardest to pull off. Sounds like this author managed it.

    Moody Writing



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