With the cover and synopsis, it was a forgone conclusion that I would want to read Alienated by Melissa Landers. It's hard not to be intrigued by alien exchange student programs. It's just as fun as it sounds, but with some underlying depth and layers too.
(Review of an ARC received in exchange for a fair review.)
Two years ago, the aliens made contact. Now Cara Sweeney is going to be sharing a bathroom with one of them.
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.
Alienated deals with the clashing of cultures on an inter-galactic level, but the underpinning issues to the story can be seen with in our own world just as easily. I always enjoy when sci-fi/fantasy uses the unreal to mirror reality. The L'eihr students feel they are superior to humans. They believe their government is making a drastic mistake in wanting an alliance. The humans are just as wary of these aliens. Despite giving the world a cure for cancer, there are some that believe the price for that will be to high. HALO, the group protesting the L'eihr should look eerily reminiscent to movements we have seen where fear and misinformation rule the day. I appreciated how Landers used all of these elements and included shades of gray in all the parties. This isn't a story of good versus evil. It's a story about humanity, what it looks like to sink to humanity's lowest common denominator, and what it looks like to try and rise above it. At the center of it are two teens who want to what is best for their home and family and end up falling in love. Despite the seriousness of some of the interests addressed the book's tone is light and doesn't takes itself seriously at all which left me with something of a disconnect at times.
Cara is a fiery, intelligent, passionate girl. She is grateful for the cancer cure that saved her mother's life. She is open-minded and willing to stand by Aelyx even in the beginning when he is behaving like a heartless drone. Aelyx is motivated in everything by a fierce loyalty to his home planet. He is unimpressed with humans and how they have treated their planet and does not wish to see the same thing happen to his own planet. He is willing to sacrifice all of earth to see his own planet safe. But Cara's courage and friendship open him up to feeling things he never has and looking at things in a new way. Their relationship develops slowly, but has some intense and heated moments. I felt that some of the character development was rushed and not as in depth as it could have been. The set up for the story took a lot of time, and most of the book is dedicated to introducing the characters and setting up the conflict so the romance feels sort of rushed once it gets it started. I liked both Cara and Aelyx though and want to see them succeed and be happy.
It is an interesting set-up for a story. The plot has some action filled moments, but in several places is a little slow. I found myself wishing things were moving along more quickly in several places. However, I never became disinterested. I always wanted to keep reading and see where the story was headed. After all the set up, the ending felt a bit rushed. It is the first in a series and, while the story comes to a definite close, it's not one that left me feeling content. It is clear things are going to get worse for Cara and Aelyx before they get better. The sequel, Invaded, will be coming out next year and I will most definitely be getting it to see what happens next.
I read an ARC received at ALA from the publisher, Disney-Hyperion. Alienated is available now.