We're kicking off today w/ a review of Melissa Lander's awesome Alienated which came out earlier in the month + Q&A + giveaway w/ the lovely Christine and Isabel, as usual.
But first things first: the review!
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published February 4th 2014 by Disney Hyperion
Format read: Physical ARC via publisher
With two engaging lead characters, a star-crossed romance (quite literally in this case!), and an unexpected series of twists, this is a book that is sure to capture the heart of readers everywhere.
Synopsis via publisher:
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.
Since the latter half of 2013, it seems like aliens have been the subject du jour in the world of YA fiction.
Books like Demitria Lunetta’s In the After (HarperTeen), Margaret Stohl’s Icons(Little, Brown BFYR) and Rick Yancey’s The 5th Wave (Putnam), have all explored what it’s like to live in a world where aliens are the invading force, pushing humanity to the brink of extension.
But what if the aliens weren’t in fact, an invading force? What if they were just as curious about humans, as we would be about them? And just what if we set up…a student exchange program with them?
These are the questions that Melissa Landers seeks to answer in her debut novel, Alienated. Rather than portray aliens as faceless, nameless invaders, Landers introduces us to the L’eihr, a peaceful group of aliens with DNA almost identical to humans, but with one very notable difference: they can’t feel emotion.
Two years after making contact with Earth, the L’eihr and Earth have arranged to host a student exchange program for their best and brightest. Cara Sweeney is chosen to host Aelyx, a cold but smart young man, who has ulterior motives for joining the exchange program.
As both Cara and Aelyx slowly begin to get acquainted, a wave of anti-L’eihr paranoia pushes them far beyond their comfort zones. Though they turn to each other for support, the secret that Aelyx has been hiding may end up forcing Cara to fight for both herself and her planet.
Things that worked:
As usual, let’s start with the basics:
Landers writes with an effortless confidence, and her words fly off a page in a way that made reading Alienated incredibly enjoyable.
I was especially impressed with her ability to alternate between Cara and Aelyx’s voices in each chapter, using third-person limited. Landers adds enough detail and distinction to make the mindset of both characters distinctive, which is not an easy feat when using that particular narration style.
The mythology behind the L’eihr is an incredibly detailed one. Without revealing any spoilers, Landers has definitely created an alien origin story that is rich and complex, and I can’t wait for her to further explore the world in following books.
At the same time, Landers has also created a post-L’eihr earth that is completely believable and feasible. I can totally see something like HALO forming in the aftermath of contact with the L’eihrs, and I also look forward to seeing how they’re going to react after the events of the first book.
For a book that covers a fairly significant amount of time – about a year in earth time - the book moves at a brisk pace. Landers does a good job of building up the action slowly, until it hits the climax in the latter half of the book.
There’s a fine balance between the day-to-day of Cara and Aelyx’s life – including the gradual unfolding of their romance – and the more explosive elements of the book. I think this will definitely heighten the appeal to reads who want both a sci-fi, and elements of a contemporary YA.
* The characterizations.
Cara Sweeny had my heart from the very first page of Alienated, where she proudly admits to retaking AP calculus solely for the purpose of boosting her GPA, so she could secure (a.k.a. steal) the position of valedictorian.
This is a girl who knows what she wants, and knows what she needs to do to get it. Cara’s clearly driven and clever, but also not in a way that would make her obnoxious or unlikeable. She’s also curious and empathetic about life and the world around her in a way, which I think would make just about anyone want to be her friend.
Even as things get tough as the book progresses – including some incredible peer pressure - she never loses sight of who she is, and what she stands for. I strongly applaud Landers for writing a character with qualities that teenage readers can look up to.
All of these sentiments apply to Aelyx, as well. Even though he’s technically emotionless, he’s still empathetic, and more importantly, smart enough to admit when he’s wrong.
I especially loved Aelyx’s transition from passionately arguing the beliefs that he held before his stay on Earth, to the realization that he was wrong. He’s so smart when coming to the awareness that he’s been wrong this entire time.
* The socio-economic implications.
As someone who works in politics, I loved the fact that many of the issues experienced by Cara and Aelyx are extremely relevant to our current political landscape.
Readers will recognize many of the issues being faced by the main characters – e.g. immigration (though, slightly more galactic in this case); cultural conflict; religious diversity, etc. – as ones that are faced by our families, friends and leaders today.
But what’s notable about Landers’ incorporation of these issues is her skill at showing both sides of the argument. She always makes it clear – whether through conversation or action – that there are two sides to every issue, and it’s important to respect both sides.
I think educators and parents can easily use the issues discussed in Alienated as a way of connecting to general real-world issues at large, and to invoke more classroom discussion after that.
* The romance.
Cara and Aelyx’s romance is the perfect example of the slow burn.
The two of them take the time to get to know each other, slowly and surely. They talk. They learn things about one another. They do small things for one another, to feel more comfortable in each other’s presence.
E.g. Cara basically goes into a cooking frenzy, to make sure that Aelyx has food that he’ll eat and enjoy. Alternatively, Aelyx makes a strong effort to be more human through observing the conversations and actions of others, because he knows it’ll make Cara feel better.
I loved the fact that their relationship is something that’s slowly built upon time, so we can see why they go from being slightly suspicious of one another, to falling passionately for one another. I absolutely can’t wait to see where Landers is going to take this romance in the rest of the series.
Things that didn't work/Things to consider:
However, I also do think that the ending does set up the next book in the series beautifully.
I would recommend this book for readers who are fans of both science fiction, and of contemporary YA. I would also recommend this book for fans of Marissa Meyer andBeth Revis.
I received an ARC of Alienated from Disney-Hyperion in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!
About the author:
Additionally, she writes contemporary romance for adults under the name Macy Beckett.