A teenage girl explores difficult subjects with an alien inhabiting her mind in a new novel from Leslie (How to Survive in International Marriage, 2004).
Eighteen-year-old Michelle Redmond lives in Pensacola, Florida, with her stepfather, Fred; her loving mother, Angelica; and her half brother, Austin. Alienated and disaffected, Michelle struggles to connect with her peers and wishes that she could have an encounter with an alien to make her existence less ordinary. This wish may be coming true, as Michelle repeatedly dreams that she’s living in an extraterrestrial murderer’s body; soon, she even sees reflections of the murderer in mirrors when she’s awake. But Michelle’s problems increase when she’s the driver in a car crash that kills Austin and renders Angelica comatose. Racked by guilt, Michelle tries to move on with Fred, who blames her for the accident. She soon discovers that the alien murderer is a real being named Tavy, who’s been forced to live inside her mind after killing his girlfriend in the Cassiopeia Nebula. Nonetheless, he and Michelle become friends as they use Michelle’s dreams to explore the nature of justice and suffering as part of an effort to rehabilitate and redeem the alien. All the while, Fred’s behavior becomes increasingly unhinged. Leslie’s novel admirably engages with big ideas. For example, Tavy is horrified by the institutionalized violence that he sees on Earth, but Michelle forces him to consider whether his own crime is any worse. Fred psychologically torments (and later physically assaults) Michelle, but the author also points out that his dysfunction stems from tragic loss. But although the storyline is highly imaginative, it often feels disorderly. Between Fred’s antics, Tavy’s criminal past, and Michelle’s incorporeal journeys, the author packs a lot of dramatic plot points and heady topics into a short book of fewer than 200 pages. The compressed pacing results in bizarre, jarring moments, such as when Michelle’s boyfriend, Steve, too quickly accepts her contention that an alien lives inside her, or when Fred attempts to murder someone with a cat allergy by using hot dogs. A slower pace with more character development might have made such heightened scenes more believable.
A strange book that’s full of imagination but marred by scattered plotting.