Alyce at At Home with Books has started a weekly tradition of revisiting past reading favorites and bringing them into the spotlight.
This week’s feature is The Only Alien on the Planet, by Kristen D. Randle. It’s another find from the YA section in my local library. During my senior year of high school I made the trip to the library a few times a week. Somehow I fit it in between school, swim practice, work and volunteer activities. I was a receptionist at the local pool that year, and had lots of free time behind a desk for reading. Or if I didn’t, I made time. In any case, I picked up this book for the beautiful cover art and wacky title (as soon as I was sure it wasn’t truly about ALIENS, which have never been my ‘thing’), and found myself surprised, moved and emotionally engaged from page one.
Ginny Christianson had been a happy person: "happy, cheerful, easygoing, reasonably popular even." When her family suddenly relocates and a beloved older brother leaves for college at the same time--well, let's just say Ginny is a "displaced person." As life manages to go on, a strange boy at school captures Ginny's attention. Smitty Tibbs is a brilliant, handsome boy who never speaks. He’s known as the Alien and lives isolated from emotion and communication – tolerated by the other students but pretty much left alone. Meanwhile, Ginny's new friend Caulder has long been fascinated with Smitty and is determined to break through to him. Together Caulder and Ginny take on Smitty’s remoteness and begin to probe at the barriers and silence he lives behind. Narrated by a deft and engaging teen voice in Ginny, the overall impact of this psychological novel is extremely powerful.
I suggest skipping some of the editorial reviews on Amazon and other sites – they contain massive spoilers. Part of the beauty of this book is that it radiates tension and mystery, just like its resident alien, Smitty. Ginny, the narrator, is a wonderful character – full of life and insecurities and getting to know herself even as she feels out of place and distanced in a new environment. Also highlighted are family dynamics and the stress and pressure that change puts on relationships as people grow up and circumstances alter. I think that the only other thing I can say is that this book bent my world. In a good way.
After I read Alien for the first time (and the second, re-reading it right over again), I wanted to know why I hadn’t heard of it before. I mean, I haunted our local libraries. I read all of the little booklets announcing the YA classics and titles for reluctant readers, and voluntarily worked my way through my 9th grade English teacher’s booklist (she had something like 50 books listed). Why was a book that had changed my life a relative unknown?
It was an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, as well as an ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers. My best guess, then, is that before the re-birth of the YA genre (ala Harry Potter and Twilight) and without the massive word-of-mouth machine that has developed with the advent of YA book blogs, this amazing novel simply didn’t have the publicity outside of library circles to make it big. I’m very happy to say that it’ll be back in print on September 1, 2009, with Sourcebooks’ Jabberwocky imprint.
In celebration of that fact (and because I think anyone and everyone should read this), I’m giving away one (1) copy.
Leave a comment on this post answering the question, “Which book changed your world?”
Please include your email address. Giveaway is open internationally. Comments will close on September 1 at 11:59pm EST, and I will notify the randomly selected winner via email.