CM . . .
. Volume XVIII Number 29. . . .March 30, 2012
First Day on Earth.
New York, NY: Scholastic Press (Distributed in Canada by Scholastic Canada), 2011.
150 pp., hardcover, $19.99.
Grades 6-9 / Ages 11-14.
Review by Tara Stieglitz.
"The police found me in the dirt three days later. Nowhere near the fireworks. Miles away from the town. How to you explain that?
Some people think I ran away. But I didn't. I didn't even know that it was three days later. I though I'd been gone for an hour.
I didn't walk to the desert. I didn't like walking that much, not when I was twelve, so I definitely wouldn't have walked from Indio all the way to the 62 highway. I just wouldn't have. They put me there. They put me back close to where they thought they found me. Hell, from space it probably is like exactly where they found me. 'Cause when you've come a million light-years, what's a mile or two?
But no one believed me.
Mal, the narrator and hero of First Day on Earth, may seem like a typical disaffected teenager. He's a loner who doesn't pay attention in school and doesn't do his homework. His mother is an alcoholic, and his father abandoned them years ago. But Mal isn't a typical teenager at all, Mall is convinced that, when he was 12, he was abducted by aliens and kept for three days before they returned him to Earth. Now 16, Mal's life and actions are still coloured by his abduction experience. The abduction, coupled with his father's desertion, leaves him feeling abandoned and alone in the world.
First Day on Earth may sound like a science fiction novel, but it doesn't read as one. The first half of the novel feels like a fairly typical teen novel about alienation, with barely a mention of aliens or abductions. In the second half of the novel, once Mal has found and joined a support group for abductees, the book begins to have more of a science fiction feel. It is a testament to Castellucci's skills as a writer that this doesn't feel jarring or disjointed. On the contrary, the novel is well-written, and the characterization and teenage narration feel realistic. First Day on Earth also manages to keep the reader just as unsure about the veracity of Mal's alien abduction as the people of the town were when it happened. Until the very end, the reader questions Mal's sanity and the sanity of some of the people he meets in the abduction support group. Despite the potential for an open-ended novel that leaves the reader with these questions, the ending was satisfying and mostly conclusive.
Alien abduction may seem like a frivolous topic, but First Day on Earth takes it seriously and relates it to more earthly themes of abandonment, making for a novel with depth and compassion. First Day on Earth is an excellent choice for teen readers, even those who may hesitate at its ostensibly science fiction story line.
Tara Stieglitz is a librarian at Grant MacEwan University in Edmonton, AB.
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