Book Review: Alienated by Melissa Landers
High school senior Cara Sweeney thought fighting to claim the title of class valedictorian would be her biggest challenge this year in school — until out of the blue, she’s selected to be one of three students ON THE ENTIRE PLANET who will be hosting an exchange student from the planet L’eihr. As added incentive, she’ll get a full scholarship to college, plus the opportunity to go spend a semester studying on L’eihr as well.
The catch? Even though it’s been two years since the L’eihrs made contact — and not coincidentally, provided the cure for cancer as a good-will gesture, thereby saving Cara’s mother’s life — the level of mistrust among humans is quite high. The L’eihr government seeks an alliance with Earth, for the mutual benefit of both peoples, and the exchange students will serve as a test case to see if cooperation and partnership is possible. In other words, quite a lot is resting on the success of Cara and her family in making their guest feel welcomed and helping him see the value of an alliance with humans.
What Cara doesn’t count on is the fact that their student, Aelyx, is smokin’ hot. Also, brilliant, curious, and respectful, but definitely quite a babe as well. The L’eihrs have “nearly identical” DNA as humans, so co-mingling of the species is a distinct possibility… and the longer Cara spends around Aelyx, the more strongly the idea of mingling appeals to her.
It’s not all teen lust and hormones, however: The anti-L’eihr contingent, once a fringe element of human-only protestors, is becoming more and more vocal — and when Cara is shunned at school and her parents suffer repercussions at work, the pressure to send Aelyx home and call the whole experiment off gets harder and harder to ignore. When events finally threaten to erupt into violence, both Cara and Aelyx have to make decisions about their relationship, their futures, and the fate of their entire worlds.
Kind of heavy, huh?
What to say about Alienated? From the cover and the brief blurbs I’d read, I expected a mostly light and frothy teen romance, with a pinch of sci-fi on the side just to spice things up. And that’s the case, at least to an extent. The science fiction elements are given more weight than I might have thought, so that we get a fuller picture of the evolution of L’eihr’s culture and traditions, their approach toward mating, child-rearing, conflict, and communication, and more. Midway through the book, as the anti-L’eihr protest get harsher and scarier, Alienated takes on a more serious tone, and it’s clear that there’s more on the line than the will-they-or-won’t-they sexual tension between Cara and Aelyx.
On the one hand, Alienated is certainly a compelling read, and I tore through it in one day. The author does a great job of introducing interesting individuals as characters, letting us understand their unique quirks and traits, and presenting both sides of the story by shifting points of view between Cara and Aelyx. On the other hand, the tone is somewhat inconsistent, as it yo-yos from teen snappiness and silliness to the dire tones of a — literally — star-crossed love story, practically an intergalactic Romeo and Juliet.
The science fiction elements are culturally interesting, if not particularly deep scientifically. Why is it that the one alien race to contact Earth is genetically similar to humans and looks “normal” to humans as well? It’s a bit much to swallow, but I suppose it’s the only way to set up a situation in which a semi-realistic love can develop. It’s interesting to see Aelyx struggle to adapt to life on Earth, dealing with the overabundance of bright colors, sharp tastes, and other factors that contribute to sensory overload — and at the same time, learn to open himself to human experiences and emotions as he finds himself drawn to bright, lovely Cara. Cara herself is a terrific lead character, confident of herself academically, but vulnerable to the scorn and derision of her friends and ex-friends.
I did enjoy Alienated, and despite having to suspend my disbelief a lot, found the plot to be original, entertaining, and even moving.
I will add one small caveat, which is that Alienated is apparently first in a series, with a second book due in 2015. I started this book expecting to read a stand-alone novel, and didn’t realize that a sequel would be coming until logging into Goodreads to look up some stats about the book. I was not looking to start a “to-be-continued” story, and Alienated has a completely open-ended conclusion. That’s not a reason not to read Alienated, but just be aware — in case you’re sequel-averse — that the story doesn’t end when you reach the last page.
Author: Melissa Landers
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Publication date: February 4, 2014
Length: 352 pages
Genre: Young adult/science fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of Disney Hyperion via NetGalley