Friday, November 4, 2011

Aliens on Vacation by Clete Smith

Somehow, I had thought this was a beginning chapter book, something along the lines of Pamela Service's Alien Agent series. This often happens to me. I have bought picture books thinking they were chapter books and vice versa...

David, aka "Scrub" has been sent to spend the summer with his grandmother, who he's never met. His first thought is she's a scifi geek...his second thought is she runs a bed and breakfast for geeks...and then he finds out that the Intergalactic Bed and Breakfast is exactly that; a vacation spot on a "primitive" world for aliens. David adapts to his new job, helping the aliens blend in, running errands for Grandma, and waiting for the summer to end so he can get back to his normal life of basketball, television, and cellphones. But there's a suspicious sheriff, some mean teenagers, and a girl named Amy who's really into UFOs and the summer gets a lot more excited than David had expected.

David's growing friendship with Amy is complicated by the need to hide Grandma's secret - on top of the normal 7th grade awkwardness. There's lots of silly moments in the story, but the tenor as a whole felt very serious, with David immediately falling into protection mode, trying to keep his grandmother's secret even when she didn't seem to care. The interactions between the characters were strong and realistic, but the more mature characters didn't really match the goofy plot.


There were a lot of sudden resolutions in the plot. Within a couple pages, David has gone from meeting his first alien, to complete acceptance and resignation to his new summer job. One little mistake and he wakes up in the morning with howling mobs surrounding the house. In the end, the sudden appearance of a few aliens turns a guy from a stereotypical backwoods sheriff waving a gun and fomenting a mob to the new head of alien security at the Intergalactic Bed and Breakfast.

Which leads me to something I found rather annoying. While the characteristics of the kids were strong - David's friend back home that he's grown away from, although he won't admit it, his relationship with Amy, the fight he gets into with some local teens, even the behavior of the alien kindergarteners felt realistic, the adults were much weaker.

Although David's distant relationship with his parents is mentioned a few times, there's no real reason for us to believe that David is suddenly going to be closer to his dad, thanks to a summer, a weird secret, and his dad saying they need to talk. David's grandmother is a weird mixture of hippie and town eccentric, spouting wise sayings and cooking organic vegan food. Amy's dad, the sheriff, is even worse. Near the end of the story, she tells us that law enforcement is his whole life, all he's ever wanted to do; but that doesn't stop him from forming a mob, dispensing with a search warrant, and he's about to lead his crazed riot into the Bed and Breakfast by faking a gun shot from the hotel when David's quick thinking stops him. Why, exactly, is this guy so suspicious, so aggressive towards the aliens? It feels forced, like something the author imagines would happen in a small town. Now, I've never lived in a really small town and the smaller towns I've lived in have all been in the vicinity of cities, but in my experience the only thing local law enforcement would do about something like this would be to roll their eyes and get on with their real jobs - or encourage it for a tourist attraction. If it wasn't for the cell phone and internet references, I would have assumed this was historical fiction.

Verdict: I enjoyed reading this, but the plot was a little too choppy and the stereotyped adult characters bothered me. However, there isn't a lot of middle grade science fiction and it was pretty funny with some good kid/teen characters. An additional purchase.

ISBN: 9781423133636; Published May 2011 by Disney-Hyperion; Egalley provided by the publisher through NetGalley

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