Plot/Idea: This is an intriguing novel that crafts a haunting portrait of a teenage transgender boy trying to cope with the death of his mother. What begins as the story of a bizarre alien sent to help Oliver manage his grief turns, by the end, into a journey of self-discovery and emotional endurance. The storyline moves slowly initially, but once it picks up readers will be firmly engaged until the end.
Prose: Blume’s prose blossoms alongside the novel, transforming into profound and poignant writing that mirrors Oliver’s immense metamorphosis. The protagonist’s self-analysis is exceptionally wrought and a high point of the novel.
Originality: Blume has crafted a completely original take on a story that is relevant to many audiences, and this stark twist on a coming-of-age tale boasts several exceptionally creative elements.
Character Development/Execution: Oliver shines as a protagonist tormented by his past and trying to find his place in a dangerous world. Blume delivers an astoundingly relatable inner life that will resonate with readers and bring them to the brink of heartbreak again and again.
Date Submitted: April 25, 2022
In this YA SF series opener, a teenager—already stressed by his mother’s disappearance—finds life getting more complicated with the arrival of a shape-shifting alien.
The premise of Blume’s tale sounds like a whimsical, 1970s live-action Disney feature (not good news unless it’s Escape to Witch Mountain). But then the story takes an extreme twist at midpoint. Weird science spins 14-year-old Oliver Tarsul’s life out of control. His mother’s dimension-leaping quantum device causes her vanishing and possible death. Her husband, Jon Jariwala, Oliver’s nice but absent-minded-professor–type stepdad, focuses his energies on comprehending her notes and rebuilding the machine to try to return her. Meanwhile, there is a side effect—a shape-shifting alien called Dindet, actually a gelatinous colloid but presenting itself as a sort of little girl clown/jester. She pops in from her realm to haunt Oliver. Jon, taking the creature in stride (especially since Dindet’s advanced math knowledge could help bring his wife back), has the alien enrolled in Oliver’s school as a foreign-exchange student living under their roof. Oliver, of course, is embarrassed and shocked by having to cohabit and attend class with the bizarre clown. Seriocomic antics (including a visit to Dindet’s riotous dimension and gladiatorial games) get darker at midpoint when the author drops a bombshell involving Oliver and his brutal, alcoholic biological father. It is not so much the abrupt shifts in tone that will whipsaw the audience (there are clues aplenty that Oliver is in emotional turmoil; readers will just assume Dindet is the reason) as the contrast between the two narrative threads. A slapstick, first-contact story turns into a vivid portrayal of a troubled family. Imagine warping from E.T. the Extraterrestrial to a serious drama. The author’s matter-of-fact, nonjudgmental treatment of Oliver is commendable (so is the unforced, multicultural background material), and readers will wonder how this story might have played out minus the shape-shifting elements. Still, the alien stuff triggers the intriguing cliffhanger.
The tears of an alien clown and a startling angle distinguish this engaging SF tale.