Charlie (not Charles) Dickens seeks UFOs and avoids life in small-town Montana.
Charlie’s mother disappeared two years ago. Prompted by her claims beforehand, he’s certain she was abducted by aliens who’ll eventually U-turn to collect him. Now a freshman, he has no mother, no mothership, and no friend in sight save for an obese, housebound neighbor, whose body is described in derogatory terms, and a three-legged dog named Tickles. Aggressively bullied (imagine what small minds do with the name Dickens) and openly disliked at school, Charlie scurries under the radar until Seth sweeps into town. Charlie can’t understand why charismatic Seth wants to talk to him and initially retreats before being lured into the fold of friendship. Charlie is eventually forced to look skyward and wonder what’s really missing—his mother or his perspective? The prospect of aliens appearing at any second has its own brand of fantastic intrigue, but the reader’s omniscient awareness as Charlie grapples with navigating intimacy and self-respect is eons more emotionally substantive. The town appears entirely white. One character is gay—an important plot point treated with subtlety. A noncogent grandmother and alcoholic father add a layer that doesn’t detract from the coming-of-age perspective. One neatly tied plot point after another at the end feels a little crowded compared to the preceding pace but shouldn’t deter readers.
A slice-of-life glimpse at a boy trying to mean something in the universe. (Realistic fiction. 12-16)