Thursday, October 20, 2011

YA to look out for

First Day on Earth by Cecil Castellucci

I've long thought that one reason we love stories about aliens (or sentient nonhuman creatures) is that at one time or another, we've all felt like aliens ourselves. I know I have, and I'll bet that just about everyone who's survived adolescence has, too. (The "just about" is a hedge in case there are, somewhere in the world, people who just sailed through; I'm willing to allow for the possibility, even if I don't know any of them.)

Cecil Castellucci takes that experience and whirls it around in a blender with the mythos of alien abduction and a protagonist who's not only smart but has to face a whole lot more than many of us. Mal's the kid with the greasy hair, slumped in the last row of seats in class, the kid you're afraid to talk to. He's got secrets, too. Years ago, he disappeared, but whether those missing three days were a "breakdown" or an alien abduction, even Mal isn't sure. His alcoholic mom lives right on the edge.

How far away from here is far enough? Mal asks. How far away would I be willing to go?

Do you remember feeling like that? Doesn't everyone?

Castellucci's characters are uncompromising and her prose cuts right to the core. Not just for teens, First Day on Earth is both gritty and lyrical, subtle and over-the-top. It shows with poignant eloquence how the symbols and tropes of speculative fiction can convey our deepest human experiences.

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