Jake Wind is trying to stay under the radar. Whose radar? Anyone who might be too interested in the fact that he has shapeshifting abilities he can’t control. Or that his parents found him as a ball of goo when he was a baby.
Keeping his powers in check is crucial, though, if he wants to live a normal life and go to middle school instead of being homeschooled (and if he wants to avoid being kidnapped and experimented on, of course).
Things feel like they’re going his way when he survives his first day of school without transforming and makes a new friend. But when mysterious sinkholes start popping up around town—sinkholes filled with the same extraterrestrial substance as Jake—and his neighbors, classmates, and even his family start acting a little, well, weird, Jake will have to learn to use his powers in order to save his town.
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.