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Book Review: Alienated by Melissa Landers

AlienatedTitle: Alienated

Author: Melissa Landers

Genre: Science Fiction, Romance, Young Adult

Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Publication Date: February 2014
Hardcover: 352 Pages

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.

Stand alone or series: Book 1 in a planned series

How did I get this book: Review Copy from the UK Publisher

Format (e- or p-): Print Copy

Why did I read this book: I’ve been in the mood for a lighthearted romantic YA novel, and Alienated seemed to fit the bill.

Review:

Cara Sweeny has got everything under control. Valedictorian of her high school, captain of the debate team, star student with her sights set on a cutting career in journalism, Cara’s senior year should be a breeze. Then, the news arrives that Cara has been chosen, one of just three human teenagers worldwide, to house the very first L’eihr transfer student. Ever since the L’eihr made first contact with humanity two years earlier, little is known of the humanoid alien race other than they appear mostly human (although they have telepathic abilities), possess exceptional and advanced technology (including the cure for cancer), and that they value the safety of knowledge over turbulent emotions or progress.

Cara is excited about the opportunity to house her L’eihr student, a young man named Aelyx – even though she wasn’t expecting it, she’ll take the scholarship money and leverage the opportunity to start her journaism career by blogging about her interactions with the alien L’eihr.

Aelyx, however, is not at all what Cara expected. Sure, he’s gorgeous, but completely devoid of emotion; that’s to say nothing of the huge cultural divide between human and L’eihr, evident from different food choices to aversion to physical contact. Still, as the days and weeks pass, Cara and Aelyx gradually begin to understand each other, and even care for each other. Their friendship, however, is put to the test every day as anti-alien groups and xenophobia start rearing their ugly heads. Faced with threats of violence and unabashed hate, Cara and Aelyx fight to keep the peace between their people – the fate of both human and L’eihrkind depend on them.

The first book in a planned series by Melissa Landers, Alienated is an unexpected book. I say unexpected, because at first glance, it looks to be your standard romantic YA fare, featuring a pretty young Earth girl and a studly alien dude uniting over their differences and getting it on. (At least, that was my impression of the book from the cover – see cover note below because whitewashing – and the blurb.) There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that kind of story, and it was what I was expecting going into Alienated. Imagine my surprise, then, when I discovered it wasn’t an instant interplanetary romance, but rather one of the overcoming pride/prejudice variety! And, beyond the romantic heart of the book, it’s also a considered story about tolerance and change. Can I get a hell yes, please?

So let’s talk about the romance first, shall we? Because Alienated is, at its heart, a science fiction romance novel. It’s the story of two unlikely protagonists getting over their differences and collective baggage, and falling head over heels (or should it be over the moon and beyond?) in love with each other. It’s not an easy love story, which I appreciate – it’s a rough road to acceptance, friendship, and beyond for Cara and Aelyx, which makes the payoff all the sweeter when they do realize the depth of their feelings for each other. The reason why the romance works so well, in my opinion, is because Cara and Aelyx exist as separate entities and are wholly believable as independent characters. Cara is driven and true to her own desires, while Aelyx, for all his insistence that he doesn’t stoop to human emotions, actually has a huge reservoir of emotional depth. Part of this character success also comes from the fact that the book is written in an alternating third person narrative, switching from being inside both Cara and Aelyx’s narratives. This style gives both characters a distinct voice, but it feels less gimmicky than many he-said-she-said alternating first person narratives, and less internalized than just being inside one character’s head (both popular techniques in YA paranormal and SFF novels, especially of the romantic persuasion).

It’s also worth noting that neither of the characters likes the other very much to begin with (I’m always a sucker for that kind of romance). Aelyx is distant and cooly superior despite Cara’s attempts to make him feel at home, and both have their own separate priorities. Cara, for example, juggles with the stress of housing the first L’eihr student and the hostile, judgmental fallout from her fellow human students, as well as resentment from her boyfriend and her best friend (both boyfriend and best friend distrust the L’eihr implicitly because they fear Aelyx and his kind have nefarious plans for humanity). Amid this tension, there’s a gradual dependence and trust that blossoms between both Cara and Aelyx – a relationship that is delicious to watch unfold. One last word on the romance – which, thankfully, avoids the trap of instalove and seems to be triangle-free (although a part of me worries about future love geometry with the ending of the book). I love that both Cara and Aelyx are wonderfully different from each other, and united in doing what they think is the right thing for their respective species.

But let’s go beyond romance now, shall we? Beyond the romantic angle, Alienated is so compelling because it actually delves into the meatier issues around human-alien contact. On the human side, there’s fear when humanity realizes that they aren’t at the top of universal food chain and ensuing rampant xenophobia. It’s ugly, but the actions of Cara’s peers, the death threats, the political protests and motions against the L’eihr are all (sadly) within the realm of reason. On the L’eihr side, things aren’t exactly rosy, either. It turns out that the L’eihr are a stagnant society that, for all its advancements in science and intellect, is dying slowly because of its lack of diversification. The L’eihr’s problem is a resistance to change – on a genetic level (the L’eihr have resorted to using cloned DNA for their new generations), and on a larger societal level. Add to this the stagnation on the L’eihr’s ruling council and distrustful resentment of the younger L’eihr generation – including the resolute Aelyx – and you’ve got a very volatile environment.

All these things to say: I enjoyed this book very much. Alienated is a romance with heart and depth, and I cannot wait to return to Cara and Aelyx’s story in book 2. (Especially as it looks like book 2 is all about Cara, learning to adapt and exploring the L’eihr world!) Absolutely recommended.

A Note on the Cover: Alienated looks like it’s boasting yet another whitewashed YA cover. Aelyx, the guy at the top of the cover, is supposed to have russet/red-brown skin – all of the L’eihr are desribed as such.

Aelyx (Alienated)

Please stop doing this, publishers and cover art designers. Just. Stop.

Rating: 7 – Very Good

Reading Next: Spindle’s End by Robin McKinley

Buy the Book:

(click on the links to purchase)

barnes & noble Book Depository UK amazon_uk

Ebook available for kindle US, nook, Google Play, kobo & iBooks

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9 Comments

  • Thea 'Gizzimomo' Wilson
    March 31, 2014 at 8:07 am

    Fantastic review and I’m glad I’m not alone in noticing when publishers put things on the cover that are plain not-in-context! Make me cross!

    Thea @ Gizzimomo’s Book Shelf

  • Stefani @ Caught Read Handed
    March 31, 2014 at 9:40 am

    I really enjoyed this review. I have to check this book out. Added to my TBR pile.
    Whitewashing is an epidemic. I don’t understand why publishers continue to allow it, as it’s clear that a lot of the people who actually buy and read the books (me, you, my fellow commenter) would rather have covers that are true to the book. Cashing in on the trend, I suppose.

  • Thea
    March 31, 2014 at 2:04 pm

    Hey, another Thea! *waves*

    Stefani – I hope you like this book as much as I did! It’s romantic and entertaining, and I enjoyed it immensely.

    One last note on whitewashing: not only is this cover inaccurate, but because the publisher has changed the skin of a protagonist from brown to white, there are a whole slew of very intensely problematic connotations. (You know what’s even more damning and frustrating in my mind? The fact that they got Cara’s appearance – her red hair, her pale skin – correct.) Whitewashing is an abhorrent practice, and it really needs to stop.

  • Michelle
    March 31, 2014 at 7:01 pm

    Ironic how a book that deals with xenophobia and a fear of change boasts a white-washed cover. Nice going publisher!! *slow clap*

    I have to say, I was not at all interested in checking out this book when it started popping up everywhere (I was mostly turned off by the cover) but you have me sold! I’m going to put this on hold at the library. (:

  • hapax
    April 1, 2014 at 9:08 am

    Y’know, I’m starting to think that we get different books with the same cover and title. 🙂

    I mean, I didn’t *hate* this book, it was cute and fluffy, but I thought that Cara and Aelyx had zero chemistry and their romance was forced by the plot, that the theme “Bigotry is BAD, y’all!” was superficial and undercut by the stereotypical characters (a vivacious sexy foul-mouthed Latina best friend, rilly? Why didn’t they just go with the sassy gay guy?) and the conclusion was COMPLETELY unbelievable and really, really disturbing

    *
    SPOILER
    *

    (extrajudicial government-sanctioned juvenile human trafficking, much?)

    *END SPOILER*

    But it’s great to read different opinions — that’s what makes review sites so much fun!

  • Thea
    April 1, 2014 at 10:08 am

    *joins Michelle’s slow clap* Amazing. Insulting cover aside, I hope you enjoy this book too!

    hapax – I don’t know what to tell ya, I just don’t think we’re into the same things! I felt that the romance in this book was believable, well-written, and I enjoyed the overarching message. Yes, it’s a little didactic and obvious, but some of the meatier implications for L’ehir/Human relations going forward (including the spoilery bit you posted) could mean deeper thematic complexity in future books. I, for one, am interested to see how human governments react to the last bit of L’ehir revelations. Or to see any human discourse concerning L’ehir cloning and reproduction, or any number of other interspecies issues.

    Certainly, I believe this to be a better romance and novel than some big name, big buzz, huge marketing budget recent YA releases! But, like you say, that’s the beauty of review sites and different opinions.

  • Kate K.F.
    April 1, 2014 at 4:41 pm

    I read an ARC of this last summer and was pleasantly surprised by it as enjoying many of the same things you did. I thought it did a good job of going deeper into what could be a rather trite plot.

  • Kelly
    April 1, 2014 at 5:43 pm

    I’ve read several reviews for this, but none have made me want to read it like your review has. I fully expected Alienated to be a light, fluffy romance. And while it sounds like it has some of those characteristics, it also sounds like it has a lot more for me to enjoy!

  • Charlotte Hymes
    August 6, 2014 at 11:06 am

    Great review! I wrote a review on Alienated as well. Come check it out: http://charlottevhbooks.blogspot.com/2014/08/from-goodreads-two-years-ago-aliens.html

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