Chock-full of sharp tonal contrasts, this tale should appeal to readers with a hunger for alien adventure and an...

The Alienation of Courtney Hoffman


A debut novel fuses a serious issue—the stigma of mental illness—with sci-fi to chronicle a girl’s unusual coming-of-age.

On the surface, Courtney Hoffman seems like an average 15-year-old girl: she holds down a decently high spot in the high school hierarchy, serving as vice captain of the soccer team. But she also experiences nightmares stemming from when her now-dead grandfather, who believed in aliens, supposedly tried to drown her. Turns out, these aren’t dreams after all—aliens visit Courtney at night, trying to communicate with her (“Slowly I cracked my eyes open. Silhouetted in the light were three alien creatures. Their long, lanky bodies shuffled awkwardly toward my bed. This isn’t supposed to be happening!”). But how can she figure out what they want when her mother keeps threatening to lock her up in a psychiatric hospital? With the help of an older girl named Agatha Kirlich, who possesses an extravagant goth wardrobe, and a brother who is also visited by the aliens, Courtney uncovers clues that lead her to an ancient group known as the Knights of the Magi. Courtney’s destiny lies with the Knights and their quest to keep the dangerous pathways between universes closed off—but their mortal enemies, the Soldiers of Bilim, are determined to stop her from fulfilling it. Stefani takes readers along on a wild ride through portals to other worlds that delivers plenty of amusing adolescent dialogue; Courtney and Agatha’s interactions crackle with chemistry and eccentricity. In contrast to these funny moments, the earlier parts of the book, before Courtney realizes the aliens are real—when she legitimately believes that she is losing her mind—are pretty dark. The character of Courtney’s mom is unsympathetic and cruel to the point of feeling like a coldhearted cartoon; she treats her daughter’s potential mental illness as an inconvenience that must be forcibly submerged by Courtney or she’ll be shuttered in an institution as punishment. Once Courtney’s conflict with her mother takes a back seat to her escapades with Agatha and the aliens, the plot picks up speed and becomes a lot more enjoyable.

Chock-full of sharp tonal contrasts, this tale should appeal to readers with a hunger for alien adventure and an understanding of how it feels to be considered crazy.

Pub Date: June 7, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-940716-34-3

Page Count: 328

Publisher: SparkPress

Review Posted Online: June 10, 2016

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Aspiring filmmaker/first-novelist Chbosky adds an upbeat ending to a tale of teenaged angst—the right combination of realism and uplift to allow it on high school reading lists, though some might object to the sexuality, drinking, and dope-smoking. More sophisticated readers might object to the rip-off of Salinger, though Chbosky pays homage by having his protagonist read Catcher in the Rye. Like Holden, Charlie oozes sincerity, rails against celebrity phoniness, and feels an extraliterary bond with his favorite writers (Harper Lee, Fitzgerald, Kerouac, Ayn Rand, etc.). But Charlie’s no rich kid: the third child in a middle-class family, he attends public school in western Pennsylvania, has an older brother who plays football at Penn State, and an older sister who worries about boys a lot. An epistolary novel addressed to an anonymous “friend,” Charlie’s letters cover his first year in high school, a time haunted by the recent suicide of his best friend. Always quick to shed tears, Charlie also feels guilty about the death of his Aunt Helen, a troubled woman who lived with Charlie’s family at the time of her fatal car wreck. Though he begins as a friendless observer, Charlie is soon pals with seniors Patrick and Sam (for Samantha), stepsiblings who include Charlie in their circle, where he smokes pot for the first time, drops acid, and falls madly in love with the inaccessible Sam. His first relationship ends miserably because Charlie remains compulsively honest, though he proves a loyal friend (to Patrick when he’s gay-bashed) and brother (when his sister needs an abortion). Depressed when all his friends prepare for college, Charlie has a catatonic breakdown, which resolves itself neatly and reveals a long-repressed truth about Aunt Helen. A plain-written narrative suggesting that passivity, and thinking too much, lead to confusion and anxiety. Perhaps the folks at (co-publisher) MTV see the synergy here with Daria or any number of videos by the sensitive singer-songwriters they feature.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02734-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: MTV/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1999

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Paulsen recalls personal experiences that he incorporated into Hatchet (1987) and its three sequels, from savage attacks by moose and mosquitoes to watching helplessly as a heart-attack victim dies. As usual, his real adventures are every bit as vivid and hair-raising as those in his fiction, and he relates them with relish—discoursing on “The Fine Art of Wilderness Nutrition,” for instance: “Something that you would never consider eating, something completely repulsive and ugly and disgusting, something so gross it would make you vomit just looking at it, becomes absolutely delicious if you’re starving.” Specific examples follow, to prove that he knows whereof he writes. The author adds incidents from his Iditarod races, describes how he made, then learned to hunt with, bow and arrow, then closes with methods of cooking outdoors sans pots or pans. It’s a patchwork, but an entertaining one, and as likely to win him new fans as to answer questions from his old ones. (Autobiography. 10-13)

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-385-32650-5

Page Count: 150

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2000

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