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Forget vampires, forget werewolves, forget dystopia --- let’s talk about aliens! Melissa Landers’s new novel, ALIENATED, brings to life a whole new world (literally) in which alien teenagers enroll in high school on Earth.

Two years ago, aliens from the planet L’eihr made contact with Earth. With a DNA structure that closely resembles our own, these aliens look just like humans, but they are far more advanced in every way. For example, as a display of friendship, they give humans the cure for cancer! Obviously, Earth has everything to gain from an alliance with L’eihr, but what do L’eihrs want from us? What can we possibly teach them? In order to determine whether our two cultures are compatible, the alien exchange program is proposed, in which three humans and three L’eihrs will live on each other’s respective planets for a year.

Using the alien premise, this book brings to light some very real issues about learning to live together on a planet that is quickly becoming overpopulated and under-resourced.

Cara Sweeney is the ultimate overachiever --- valedictorian and debate team captain, she’s determined to be the best at everything. Well, the best human at any rate. When Cara’s family is handpicked to be one of the first on Earth to host a L’eihr exchange student, she decides to make the most of the opportunity by creating a blog to capitalize on human curiosity regarding these mysterious aliens. But Aelyx, Cara’s L’eihr exchange student, is nothing like what Cara expected. He may be a total hottie by human standards, but he’s cold, arrogant and infuriatingly brilliant. Aelyx does not believe humans have anything to offer his planet. He considers them primitive, disgusting creatures governed by emotion and instinct and he will do whatever he can to sabotage the alliance and save his planet from human corruption. Will Cara be able to win him over and show him why human emotion is so valuable?

Things take a turn for the worse when Cara’s friends, classmates and neighbors are swept up in anti-L’eihr paranoia. Suddenly, Cara is left feeling alone and alienated in her own town; even her best friend has become unrecognizable. Threatening letters appear in her locker and a police officer has to follow her and Aelyx to class as increasingly violent protests are staged outside their high school every day. Surprisingly, Cara finds friendship and support in Aelyx as they band together against racism and the human capacity to hate and fear what is unfamiliar and new. Despite the odds, Cara and Aelyx come to love everything about each other that makes them different. But Aelyx has been hiding the truth about Earth from Cara; humans are destroying their own planet and L’eihrs will only help save us from destruction if the alliance is a success. Cara and Aelyx are in the fight of their lives. How far will they go to prove their love and defend humanity’s right to survive?

ALIENATED is a fun, imaginative read that will leave you wishing aliens like the L’eihrs really existed, if only because the world would be a lot more interesting. Melissa Landers’s world building is superb, and even though the setting of this book is mainly on Earth, the author provides the reader with a detailed description of L’eihr, its culture and its people. We are left eagerly anticipating the second book in which Cara visits L’eihr.

The alternating points of view between Cara and Aelyx lend the story a balanced tempo that allows us to truly understand each character’s feelings and prejudices. Cara is an impressive protagonist. Not only is she unintimidated by Aelyx’s obvious superior mental acumen, but she also isn’t afraid to express her opinion and has an amazing moral compass for someone so young. Despite being shunned by her friends for her association with Aelyx, Cara never wavers in her determination to treat him as an equal rather than an alien. While at times the racism of Cara’s classmates and neighbors seems a bit over the top (we’d like to hope humans wouldn’t be so stupid if aliens ever did make contact), the author does a fantastic job of showing the dangers of close-minded fear. Using the alien premise, this book brings to light some very real issues about learning to live together on a planet that is quickly becoming overpopulated and under-resourced. If humans cannot learn to work together, despite our differences, then our planet may really be doomed. Unless, of course, aliens decide to save us.

Reviewed by Alice Dalrymple on February 4, 2014

by Melissa Landers