We’re going vintage, folks. The Only Alien on the Planet was published in 1995. I’m guessing about a dozen of you weren’t even alive when it came out!
In The Only Alien on the Planet Ginny’s tightly knit family moves across the country at the beginning of her senior year. At school she quickly makes friends, but is fascinated with Smitty–a mute boy who never looks at or touches anyone, but excels academically. Ginny and her friend Caulder try to draw Smitty out of his shell, and ultimately push him farther than they can handle. Shit gets real in the third act.
It seems like The Only Alien on the Planet was popular, or at least well received. It was an ALA Best Book of 1995 (which I’m guessing was the equivalent to their Teen’s 10 Ten) and had numerous starred reviews.
And I can’t really understand why. The Only Alien on the Planet take on social and philosphical issues that might get it recognition, but I thought a lot of the plotting was weak. This is Smitty’s book–Ginny is just a lens. On page 7 we get 3 paragraphs of information about Smitty. It’s a straight up info dump, and it happens about 21 more times. It wasn’t a major issue, but I found myself searching for subtlety and coming up empty. Information consistently told, not shown.
But here’s the thing:I haven’t really read any YA books that were written before the mid-aughts, simply because I wasn’t old enough when they came out. Because of current trends I’ve come to expect certain things from the text, like dialogue with multiple meanings (“I’m on a roller coaster that only goes up”) and light symbolism. Maybe I thought The Only Alien was clunky as hell, but the style it was written in was totally normal in the mid-nineties. In fact, maybe it was deep as hell, but I missed it because I expected it to be written exactly like the books hitting the shelves today.
Regardless, I’m making it a goal to read more books written in the 90’s or earlier. If only to find more weird covers.