Alienated (Alienated, Book 1)
Disney-Hyperion (US: 6th January 2015); Hachette Little, Brown (AU: 31st March 2015)
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TRIGGER WARNINGS: Bigotry, xenophobia, cultural appropriation (including skin-darkening).
Two years ago, the planet L’heir made contact with Earth, using superior technology. As a show of good faith, they cured Eileen Sweeney of cancer. (Did they cure anyone else? If not, why her? Not sure if this was explained.) Now, Aelyx is a L’heir exchange student in the Sweeney home.
Of course, there’s a romance between Aelyx and Cara Sweeney. But in Midtown, the Sweeneys and the high school teachers seem to be the only ones who don’t hate Aelyx and the L’heirs.
Cara’s best friend and ex-boyfriend have joined the local chapter of bigots. (We later learn they’re “not like the others” in the group, but it’s an ORGANISATION OF BIGOTS, and they’re in it.) Cara receives threatening messages from “humanists” wanting Aelyx out of town, and preferably off Earth. Bill’s kicked out of his favourite pub, Eileen’s kicked out of her book group, and Cara has no friend left except for Aelyx.
And a girl named Ashley. A group of people call themselves “L’heir Lovers”, seemingly a welcoming committee. But they definitely fetishise L’heirs, and even appropriate L’heir culture: low ponytails, beige clothing, and DARKENING THEIR SKIN. The L’heir Lovers use self-tanner, but in this context it most definitely is cultural appropriation, if not some kind of blackface.
There is definitely bigotry in this novel, but there’s also xenophobia. The “Patriots of Earth” hate L’heirs, but they also fear them. This means that instead of attacking Aelyx personally, they pick on the Sweeneys instead. Afraid Aelyx will fight back? It seems to turn the story into one of how allies are treated, instead of how the actual marginalised are treated.
Aelyx and his fellow “ambassadors” do not want to be on Earth. They want Earthlings to hate them, to kick them out back to L’heir. This is where the story becomes very timely, even though it was published almost two years ago and I only read it now.
The parents Sweeney don’t make sense. One moment they don’t want Cara and Aelyx to have sex in their house, the next they’re convincing the teens to escape to L’heir together. It seems like a complete turnaround.
While Alienated may be marketed as a fun and relaxing read, its problematic contact makes it not as fluffy as you’d expect. It’s disappointingly focused on the treatment of allies rather than the marginalised, and Midtown – kind of like Anytown, USA – is seriously disturbing with its bigotry, xenophobia, cultural appropriation, and teens with rifles.
I sure didn’t expect that.