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by Jane Leslie Conly

Age Range: 9 - 12

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2002
ISBN: 0-8050-6069-3
Publisher: Henry Holt

Despite the promising title, the rudest alien turns out to be the most confused alien, and she occupies a correspondingly confused text. Oluu, an alien from an unidentified planet and civilization, has landed on Earth for a never-defined mission. She is apparently a mechanical being but is able, by means of a process never described, to assume the form of organic beings for the purposes of fitting in with the local fauna. In her first disguise as a dog, she makes friends with Molly, the daughter of a Vermont dairy farmer. Misadventure after misadventure causes Oluu to change forms over and over, and eventually she reveals herself to Molly’s on-again, off-again friend Jack, as well. This, of course, goes strictly against her instructions, as does her growing attachment to the two children—and the results are predictably difficult for all three. The reader learns that Oluu is from a collectivist civilization, one in which individual thought and choice are subordinate to the maintenance of a group equilibrium; she delivers the occasional sharp comment regarding humanity’s propensity to destroy the common good. But aside from her affection for Jack and Molly, which leads her vaguely to question some of her assumptions, she never exhibits any real philosophical differences with her home culture, so there is no real struggle of beliefs to temper Oluu’s character—just a certain fecklessness. The children, too, are not terribly well-developed characters, although Jack shows some promise of complexity, and despite a revolving limited third-person focus on each of the three throughout the narrative, not one of them truly comes alive. Combine the murkiness of character development with a patent failure to explain the whys and hows of Oluu’s existence—a sine qua non of science fiction—and Conly (What Happened on Planet Kid, 2000, etc.) comes up with a good title—but little else. (Fiction. 9-12)