In Vaca’s (The Surgers!, 2013, etc.) YA sci-fi novel, a teenage girl rescues an alien who falls to Earth.
Sixteen-year-old Farah lives with her dad in a 300-acre village in “the bowl”—an unremitting expanse of post-apocalyptic desert that’s plagued by violent storms. It’s also home to a savage group of survivors known as the “undergrounders.” Farah loves salvaging old compact discs, and when she’s not on duty in the night-watch tower, she spends time with her boyfriend, 18-year-old Alex, or her best friend, Lois, and Lois’ little brother, Digs. Overall, Farah’s life isn’t too bad, but when she witnesses something strange in the night sky—a lightninglike spark and a purple glow—her young life is thrown abruptly into turmoil. She’s assigned to a patrol to investigate, and she soon finds herself down in a crater, protecting a transparent-skinned alien from the undergrounders and from Alex’s sadistic uncle Lark. The alien, whom Farah names “Rubik,” has lost his memory, but he appears to somehow have a connection to Earth’s distant past. He and Farah develop a growing affinity for each other as the story goes on. Vaca writes from a first-person, present-tense perspective from both Farah’s and Rubik’s viewpoints, which sometimes overlap. The latter is the less convincing of the two; although the alien’s perspective helpfully gives readers an outside impression of Farah, he quickly loses what could have been an intriguing aura of inscrutability. His amnesiac musings, meanwhile, are only skimmable, at best. Farah, however, is a likable protagonist who pushes the narrative forward in both thought and deed. Although it takes about five minichapters to get going, the story moves along nicely once it does. Vaca’s straightforward prose makes good use of dialogue, endowing minor characters with distinct personalities. Lark is an uncomplicated antagonist, but other players are very much painted in shades of gray. By the time Farah and Rubik’s journey takes them to the “junkyarders”—orphans whose situation is a disquieting homage to Lord of the Flies—readers will be hooked.
A short, sharp beginning to a trilogy offering more adventure than romance.