Two years ago, the aliens made contact. Now Cara Sweeney is going to be sharing a bathroom with one of them.There's a lot to discuss in Alienated, more than I expected actually. This is partly because the blurb and cover make it look like it will be primarily a romance novel, low on issues. It wasn't really either. The aliens are played very much as the other that many people (I would say somewhat red-neck-y people) fear for not necessarily valid reasons. Basic xenophobia. Cara, as the host of an alien teen, bears a lot of the brunt of the xenophobic fear, including from people she was previously on good terms with.
Handpicked to host the first-ever L’eihr exchange student, Cara thinks her future is set. Not only does she get a free ride to her dream college, she’ll have inside information about the mysterious L’eihrs that every journalist would kill for. Cara’s blog following is about to skyrocket.
Still, Cara isn’t sure what to think when she meets Aelyx. Humans and L’eihrs have nearly identical DNA, but cold, infuriatingly brilliant Aelyx couldn’t seem more alien. She’s certain about one thing, though: no human boy is this good-looking.
But when Cara's classmates get swept up by anti-L'eihr paranoia, Midtown High School suddenly isn't safe anymore. Threatening notes appear in Cara's locker, and a police officer has to escort her and Aelyx to class.
Cara finds support in the last person she expected. She realizes that Aelyx isn’t just her only friend; she's fallen hard for him. But Aelyx has been hiding the truth about the purpose of his exchange, and its potentially deadly consequences. Soon Cara will be in for the fight of her life—not just for herself and the boy she loves, but for the future of her planet.
I felt that Alienated did use aliens as analogues for racism, especially in the kinds of slurs and reactions of by-standers and the anti-alien lobby/terrorist group. Your mileage may vary on that point. Landers doesn't pull any punches with people's reactions to Aelyx and the aliens generally. There's a build-up throughout the book in terms of what Cara actually witnesses, culmination in very dramatic events. There was one scene near the end that really made me cringe at how horrible some people were being, especially when it was directed at Cara, rather than being more generalised and diffuse anti-alien sentiment. I wouldn't be surprised if people more knowledgeable on the topic than I am will see direct parallels to historical racism events.
I can't review a science fiction book without making some comment on the science. In general, Alienated was was science-lite so there's not much for me to directly complain about, just a lot of hand-wavey technology. BUT. The aliens cane from another galaxy, which struck me as kind of ridiculous. There's one bit where Aelyx explains to Cara how hard it was for them to find humans — ie other intelligent life — and the way he explains it makes more sense if taken as though he is talking about searching within part of the Milky Way. The numbers are off, not to mention the very practicality he's talking about. There's also a few passing comments about how the alien light-speed travel and a reference to relativity which don't actually gel with character experiences. Despite mentioning the possibility there was no actual time-dilation. Also, the aliens are genetically compatible with humans, which is just weird, but I hold out hope that there might be a plot-based reason for that (other than convenience, I mean).
So the science wasn't awesome (but not the worst ever) but the story was better than I expected. I have to admit, when I got up to the climax, I became very sceptical of how the story was going to end — that is, whether it would be satisfying — but it didn't quite go exactly how I expected. I will probably pick up the next book in the series (it's US YA, of course it's a series) to see what happens next.
I would recommend Alienated to fans of YA and YA SF. In particular, those looking for a read that can be confronting at times will find much to like here. The story deals with Cara's alienation from her peers — which while having an unusual cause is not unusual for a teenager to experience — as well as more extreme levels of vilification for hosting an alien (which she didn't actually have a choice about) and being nice to him (because she's not a terrible person). I suspect the cringe-worthy scene I mentioned above might be more confronting for some people than others. Anyway, it's not a bad read, and I encourage others to have a look at it.
4 / 5 stars
First published: February 2014, Disney Book Group
Series: Yes. Alienated, Book 1 of ? (my guess would be 3, but not sure)
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley