Review Detail

Kids Fiction 98
And you thought it was hard to deal with pimples!
Overall rating 
 
5.0
Plot/Characters/Writing Style 
 
5.0
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable) 
 
N/A
Jake Wind is finding middle school a challenge: his dad is a proctologist who can't stop making butt jokes, and his mom "makes people feel emotional about soap"; his former friends aren't talking to him; and it's hard to pay attention in class because he is a shape shifting alien comprised of goo. It's harder and harder to maintain his human shape since there is a distracting "hum" in his town of Cedar Creek View, Arizona, and one unfortunate incident in public when his ear-to-ear grin freaked people out has made his parents very overprotective. It doesn't help that sinkholes have been appearing all over town, and seem to be filled with the same xenogel that Jake's parents found years ago. When they picked up the gel, it shape shifted into the form of a human baby, and they've cared for their little extraterrestrial ever since. His parents' support is one of the good things in his life, along with his small dog, Growler and his uncle, who is helping Jake with his guitar playing. A surprising new good thing is Agnes, who has moved to Cedar Creek View with her mother. Jake's mother wants him to befriend the new girl, and the two have a shared interest in Night Kite comics. When Jake suddenly morphs into a seal in a mall restroom, Agnes has the presence of mind to bling onlookers with the modified flash in her phone, and is quick to discern Jake's secret. Since the sinkholes have brought a team of scientists, headed by Dr. Woll, to town, Agnes doesn't question Jakes unusual background and is quick to use to scientific mind to try to help him. She does, however, blow his secret, and he is visited by "Dairy and Gravy", who claim they are Jake's "sibling bloblets" and want him to visit Dr. Woll's lab. With visions of E.T. being taken away by scientists, Jake is wary, but also knows that the situation is worsening. When the xenogel "imblobsters" his teacher, parents, and even Growler, Jake knows that he and Agnes need to find out how he is connected to the forces that are taking over the town, and save their world before everyone is imblobstered and eating caramel spaghetti burritos!
Good Points
Cedar View Creek is an ordinary, small town, and I loved the fact that Jake and Agnes were able to bike around to investigate the xenogel spreading underneath it. Having the Collaboratory that Dr. Woll was running be located in an abandoned shopping mall was a stroke of brilliance-- could there be anything as benignly creepy? The Southwestern setting also brought to mind Roswell, and made it easier to believe that Jake fell from the sky and his parents just took him in.

Middle grade parents are tough to write, but van Eekhout strikes just the right balance: they are concerned for Jake's safety, but give him room to explore. They are also endearingly annoying and have their own interests, with which they annoy Jake, of course! Jake's struggles with maintaining his human shape echo the problems that many tweens have with their bodies changing-- I always tell students that of course they trip over things and hit themselves in the face, because their hands and feet aren't where they were yesterday! He has a supportive ally in Agnes, who just might be my favorite middle grade character of all time! She does push ups while reading books, gives Jake an animal encyclopedia so he has options for shape shifting, and is always brilliantly prepared for the situations the two face. Her no-nonsense acceptance that her friend is a space alien, and her fearless drive to help him were great to see.

There are plenty of laugh out loud lines in this book, menacing but comical aliens, and plenty of adventure. These things, as well as the fast-paced plot, will make it appeal to young readers who always suspect that their best friend or sibling might, in fact, be a space alien. Teachers and librarians will like the book for it's more philosophical themes of belonging, personal identity, and friendship. This is a great choice for fans of Rodkey's We're Not From Here, O'Donnell's Space Rocks, or the old but utterly fabulous Space Race (2000) by Sylvia Waugh.
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