Middler Books and More

This blog contains Bruce DuBoff's book reviews, info on other media, and related topics. It is a collaboration between the librarian and both the students of Pennsauken Intermediate School and Phifer Middle School in Pennsauken, NJ, and the general middler book reading community. The books featured here are appropriate for grades 5-8, though not all books reviewed here are appropriate for all of those ages.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Castellucci, Cecil. First Day on Earth. Scholastic, 2011. 150 pages. ISBN 13: 978-0-545-06082-0. This book is appropriate for grades 7 and up, or ages 13 and older, depending on reading level and interests. Note: This work contains mature language and situations (3 1/2 stars out of 4).

Alienation has been in vogue for modern tweens and teens since J. D. Salinger introduced a meandering, post-war “lost generation” to Holden Caulfield. Many YA authors, ranging from the serious Lois Lowry in The Giver to the lighthearted Gordon Korman in Schooled have successfully reproduced the strangeness adolescents feel as both they and their world change and grow exponentially. Cecil Castellucci’s fable-like novel First Day on Earth succeeds in creating a character who both feels like an alien and who appears strange and uncomfortable to most of his world. Her lyrical, sparse characterization drips with verisimilitude, proving the old writers’ adage that less is more.
Malcolm has had a rough few years. His father left him for another family, and his mother has been drowning in a bottle ever since. Mal hates and resents his father for abandoning them, so Mal pities his helpless mother and shops and cooks occasionally to keep her alive. However, the secret that has made Mal a stranger to everyone on Earth is that he believes he was abducted by aliens several years ago and he is fairly certain they are returning for him. This personal reality has separated Mal from almost every one of his peers. However, Mal has a soft spot for lost and helpless animals, and Dr. Manitsky the veterinarian at the shelter and her daughter Posey are kind to him even though Mal knows it is partially out of pity for his difficult situation. When Mal brings in a small, frail kitten orphaned by his mother’s traffic accident, Mal cannot help pondering his fate and perhaps foreshadowing his own uncertain future: “[Dr. Manitsky is] scratching his back and the kitten is purring away, like he finally knows that everything is going to be fine. That there is still love in the world despite a dead mother in the middle of the road. Despite being all alone” (27). After meeting a mysterious man named Hooper at an alien abductees’ support group, Mal is forced to face his personal truth and shaky future, either striving to escape forever or managing to live on Earth despite its challenges and imperfections.
I have known quite a few students like Mal in my life; in some ways, I was Mal when I was 14 and 15, scorning the bleak nuclear future and backward morality of the 1970s. Ms. Castellucci has eerily resurrected the primal fear of adolescence, recreating the terrifying realization that, in our own minds, we are always alone. Although Ms. Castellucci delicately walks the line between science fiction and realism, the power of the novel is that it does not depend on a decision between them to be effective. In First Day on Earth, Cecil Castellucci has created a powerful story of pain and acceptance in which reality is at best subjective and sanity is a personal choice we all must make.

Labels: , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home