In Pattison’s (Pilgrims, 2017, etc.) YA novel, a half-alien boy finds love but also racial tension at a high school on Earth.
Fifteen-year-old Jake Rose is half Risonian. His mother is the Risonian ambassador, come to Earth to plead the case of her people, who will soon have no home. (Attempts to temper Rison’s volcanoes have backfired and brought the planet to the brink of destruction.) The Risonians—an amphibious race—seek leave to take refuge in the cold depths of Earth’s oceans. As an allegory for immigration and refugees in general, they find themselves distrusted. Their detractors refer to them as sharks and fear they will turn aggressive if allowed to settle. Jake is in hiding, sent to his (human) father’s old high school but forced to conceal his identity: in particular his legs, which “Velcro” together in water to form a tail. Whatever happens, he must keep a low profile. But how can he when anti-Risonian activists are planning an ecological attack that will destroy diplomatic relations between the two species? How can he when Em—the girl in his biology class—might just be his first love? Pattison writes Jake as a teenager first and an alien second. This is an astute piece of characterization: His cultural disorientation mirrors the uncertainties of adolescence, his confusion about Em (and Earth customs) making him easy to relate to. Jake makes questionable decisions. He is both a young adult and an outsider. By conflating these two perspectives, Pattison humanizes the alien experience and—without pushing the point—paints xenophobia itself as faintly ridiculous. Grounded in the real-life locale of Puget Sound, Washington, Jake’s story bounces haphazardly (though not unpleasingly) between Risonian and romantic plotlines, one usually derailing the other. Ultimately, it’s his relationship with Em that emerges more clearly. Compared to the burgeoning romance, the anti-Risonian plan is lightly sketched. This, however, is not inconsistent with a teenager’s muddled priorities. Junior high readers should approve.
A solid beginning to a trilogy that addresses all sorts of teenage alienation.