In this YA sci-fi debut novel, 14-year-old Saffron befriends a classmate who turns out to be far from home indeed.
When Saffron’s parents buy a fast-food restaurant called Robi’s Flying Saucer Drive-In, she’s excited to tackle her first job and save all the tips she can for the ninth-grade class trip to Paris—that is, if her parents ever agree to let her go. Saffron likes the work and her co-workers: Pakistani ex-model Carmen, potato-peeling delinquent Ronnie, kindly Mrs. Imbeault, the French cook, “one of those people that makes you think the world is really all right.” At her all-girls Roman Catholic school, Saffron enjoys art class and astronomy, both of which she takes with new girl Clair Villeneuve. Clair is a white-blonde, her skin practically translucent, and she initially claims to be from Frankfurt, Germany, saying her mother works for the traveling carnival set up on the outskirts of town, by the nickel refinery. But when the carnival leaves suddenly, Clair remains behind, and Saffron’s family takes her in. That’s when Saffron learns that Clair is no teenage girl but a centuries-old alien who harbors a dream that involves Earth. Mrs. Imbeault also isn’t what she seems—and both women may be in danger. While the reader expects Clair’s extraterrestrial narrative to shape the book, Winsa spends equal time on true-to-life but less compelling topics: Saffron’s family dynamics, her name (“I had the blockbuster name Saffron that did not suit me at all. My mother had named me after a spice”), the tomato harvest in her hometown of Antoninio, her plan to visit Paris, her classwork (she decides that astronomy is her favorite subject: “The universe is the last frontier”). The author’s prose is solid, but the subject matter jumps around within paragraphs, shifting in tense and time. A pivotal plot point involving Clair and her ambitions takes place in Saffron’s absence, and Winsa makes an odd choice for the tale’s ending.
A muddled sci-fi tale of fast food, aliens, and friendship.