By: Angie Haddock
When news stations start reporting that Earth has been contacted by a planet named Alma, the world is abuzz with rumors that the alien entity is giving mankind only few days to live before they hit the kill switch on civilization.
This is a fast, fun YA read. The author is Pakistani-American, and I read this in March for my monthly diverse SFF read.
We are introduced to three main characters, and the chapters alternate between focusing on one of the three. Cate Collins, Jesse Hewitt, and Adeem Khan are all in their late teens. Cate hails from San Francisco, and has spent her life caring for her schizophrenic mom. Adeem lives in Carson City, and is more obsessed with his amateur radio hobby than doing his school work – much to his parents’ dismay. Jesse lives in Roswell, where he and his mom are barely scraping by.
Earth translates a signal discovered in space, and learns that a race from another planet – which humans name Alma – is putting humanity on trial, and determining its fate within the next seven days.
Much of the world devolves into chaos after this news sinks in. Looting is rampant, people trying to escape cities cause major traffic jams everywhere, and cell towers stop working.
But within this chaos, many people also start trying to reach estranged family members or other loved ones. Cate’s mom tasks her with finding her father – who never even knew of Cate’s existence. Adeem sets out to find his older sister, who ran away two years ago after coming out to her family and fearing they would not accept her. As tourists flood Roswell, Jesse stays put, and sees this turn of events as a way to make some money off people who are looking for hope.
Jesse’s dad was a failed inventor, and even though he passed away years ago, many of his materials are still gathering dust in their shed. So Jesse builds a “machine” to send messages to Alma. People line up to send messages, and Jesse makes decent money. He thinks he’s lying to people, and ripping them off. But a new kid in town sees it differently, and thinks Jesse is giving people hope, which is the only thing they really need.
Inevitably, these three stories start coming together. (I don’t even consider this a spoiler – by about 20% in, you figure out that they’re all going to end up in Roswell.)
Most of the book deals with the issues these kids are facing, and the interpersonal relationships between them and their families, friends, etc. But there are interstitial bits featuring the aliens, as well. The friends I read this with debated whether this was really “sci-fi,” since it was mostly teen drama. While I agreed that the bulk of the book falls more under that Young Adult scope, I can’t say it’s not sci-fi when there are actual aliens in it. Those parts may be small, but still – aliens.
And I will also argue that most good sci-fi is meant to examine the humans, anyway, right?