Opinion

Reviews4Me: FIRST DAY ON EARTH – Another Day, Another Cliché

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FirstDayOnEarth

First Day on Earth

Cecil Castellucci

Scholastic Press, 160 pages
Science Fiction, Grades 7-9
Hardcover, eBook

 

I seem to be picking up a lot of pessimistic books lately, or maybe a lot of young adult fiction is pessimistic. I’m not sure which it is. The main character is an angsty teenage boy. He has his share of issues he’s dealing with. His father left him and his mother. His mother is now a helpless drunk. He really could care less about school but it’s someplace to go to get away from home.

The book starts with one tone and then abruptly leaves it. Which may be a good thing since it starts with our young hero, Malcom, going on about how no one understands him. He lists all the things that most people around him don’t know about him; any of those things could be interesting. Except none of the elements about him are really explored. All of them are clichéd and none are fleshed out to make him an interesting character. That’s a problem. If as a reader, I don’t particularly care about the main character, there isn’t a lot to keep reading for.

The story takes too long to get interesting. I don’t think there’s enough to grab readers up front and keep them for the more interesting stuff much later to come. None of the characters are particularly interesting. They’re mostly teens with normal teen reactions. It’s just not enough to get me invested enough in the characters or the story that I want to spend the time to learn more.

When the interesting part starts Malcolm is slow to pick up on what’s going on. The language that is used gives the reader all the information to know that the odd guy at the support meeting is an alien. I could buy that the teenager didn’t notice these details. Except that’s what’s he’s telling the reader. These odd little details that he notices. So, if he notices all this how come it takes so long to put the pieces together?

When I figure out what’s going on in story I get impatient with characters not figuring things out for pages, even chapters later. Yes, it would be a huge leap in real life to take some oddities about a guy to believing he’s an alien. This is not real life. It’s a book. And in books we’re asked to suspend our disbelief. I did that. Then I had to wait till near the end of the book for Malcolm to join me.

Malcolm is the main character, the hero. More specifically he’s a reluctant hero. While I want to criticize the way that Malcolm both plays the part of good guy that rescues animals and thumbs his nose at school and all its expectations; it’s also so very much the way teens act. They lift themselves up in one quadrant and sink in another. Teen years seem fraught with divergent ideas and behaviors that rarely form a cohesive whole. Again, the problem here is that despite these characteristics, Malcolm still isn’t interesting.

It’s like the author compiled a list of all the teen elements — brooding, family issues, misunderstood, horny, need for independence, some area of compassion, poor/superior academic career — and then created what was supposed to be an interesting character out of all these clichés. Guess what: it doesn’t work. We’ve either lived through them or read, watched, listened to all these characteristics before. To make the character, and thus the story, interesting and engaging it either has to be some unique blend of the teen issues or some new twist on them. This book doesn’t accomplish any of those objectives.

Our secondary characters are actually more interesting but their issues are wrapped up so neatly before the end of the short book that again we lose interest. Life is not tidy. Life issues are not wrapped up in a half hour sit-com. Most people spend much of their lives working through or coming to terms with what ever their challenge is. I don’t for a minute believe that three teens and an alien can solve each of their challenges in a day trip.

Maybe this book is more engaging for the younger audience it’s intended for. My teenage daughter read the first page, when I tried to get her to read it, and handed it back to me. She said it was to clichéd. To be honest, I thought the first page was pretty good.

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Maia Ades

Maia Ades resented the demanding schedule of first grade, as it interfered with her afternoon TV schedule. Now she watches TV for "research" and in order to write show reviews. She is currently involved in independent film production, and enjoys creating fine art.

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