Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC. The opinions expressed herein are mine alone and may not reflect the views of the author, publisher, or distributor.
This review contains spoilers.
You’ve probably heard me say this before: I tried to like this book. I really tried. Every aspect of this book were nickels in my gumball machine, and in my excitement, I neglected to note that each ball smelled faintly of feet and armpit sweat before popping them into my mouth for the unfortunate mouthful.
To wit, this book sucked.
The story starts with a plane crash. Emily and her little brother Aidan have stowed away on a cargo plane heading out into the Alaskan bush, and the pilot has no idea they’re inside his cargo hold. Shortly after surviving the crash, Bob, Emily, and Aidan are met with a helicopter and gunfire from government agents. Bob takes a shot in the arm, and the trio use leverage from the broken plane wing to ride down the mountainside like a giant sled. Then it’s a matter of survival in the wilderness and early near-Arctic spring to help Aidan get home. Cuz he’s an alien.
Some added internal tension comes about because Emily caught the boys’ locker room on fire at her school just before she stowed away in Bob’s plane, and we don’t know why. SO! The set up works. It could have been really interesting. Survival stories always get me clenched up in stress, and you throw in dodging bullets, you’ve got me sold. That’s how I ended up requesting this in the first place.
But…sadly, no. A lot of tiny wrenches ended up in the cogs and overwhelmed the works like those tiny bugs on wind turbines.
The characters. The lack of things happening probably wouldn’t have been such an issue if the characters had been more than two dimensional. Emily starts out the story as a girl who doesn’t understand her parents (granted, she’s sixteen), hates that she moved to Alaska, and is not at all happy to have traded ballet for cheerleading. By the way, we’re not given a super solid reason why she can’t go to dance in a different town nearby, or if there’s a dance studio in town…now that I think about it, I don’t even remember the name of the town where she lived. And it definitely doesn’t help that we’re not given a solid idea as to which cardinal direction they head so they can end up in Anchorage.
Emily stays the same. Bob stays the same. Emily’s parents get about as much filling out as a half-price taco. And I’ll get to Aidan later. Oh, will I get to Aidan. One of the things Aidan the alien can do is get living things to protect him by appearing small and helpless, basically a baby in their species. He then implants false memories so that these people/animals don’t question how he’s suddenly appeared. But when Emily’s parents treat him like their child, she feels strangely jealous suddenly, as if they’ve never loved her. And she says a few times that her parents never hug her, but I feel as though that’s inherently untrue, as she has no attachment issues or emotional instability. She’s a perfectly normal teen. And later on, they’re shown to hug her and care for her. Like…make up your mind. Either her parents are neglectful and want nothing for Emily but what they think she should do, or they’re supportive and she’s being dramatic.
I guarantee you, it’s the second one. Because when her parents show up to rescue the trio later on, and they ask her why she ran away, she points out these things: they like a bunch of things that she doesn’t and they make her do them (which yes, they’re her parents, it’s kind of a thing that just happens), she didn’t want to move to Alaska, she didn’t have friends in school, and she doesn’t feel listened to.
This is where my line fell for Emily. She went from being a flat teenage stereotype to an entitled brat who had no idea how privileged she was. From then on she just sounded more and more whiny, and that didn’t change throughout the rest of the book.
And now, Aidan. Oh, Aidan. We’re told that any creature who sees him has an instinctive need to protect him and keep him safe. We see this with Emily, with Emily’s parents, and with the bear in the forest. Even with Bob. But for some reason the government agents chasing them are immune to this power? And even though Aidan didn’t touch their faces or hands to tell them he’s an alien, they somehow know that he’s an alien? For Emily and Bob to realize what he was, he had to show them his true form, but apparently it wasn’t necessary for the men chasing them into the wilderness to see it because they know what he is.
And why was Aidan so susceptible to the cold? That’s never clarified.
And why does his dialogue fluctuate between “normal kid” and “alien child”?
The thing that bothered me most about Aidan was the trope he became: the perfect problem-solving child. No problem was too big for him to fix. No obstacle stood in his way–when he felt like leaping over it. Most of the book seemed to depend on Aidan’s attitude toward whatever they were facing. And for a book that was nearly 300 pages, nothing much happens.
The plane crashes. The trio heads into the wilderness. There’s an avalanche. They find a cabin and eat stuff. Emily’s parents show up. They make it to Anchorage. They contact Aidan’s family. Aidan leaves. Emily and her family go home. The end…
A glaringly, blatantly impossible plot point is what Emily’s ballet career hinges upon. When she showed Aidan how she danced, they were in the cabin in the wilderness. They had ditched the SPOT tracker that would help locate them. Bob was healing from being shot in the arm, asleep in the cabin. But somehow a video turns up that Bob filmed of Emily dancing by the lake with Aidan.
(Of course, since no one else saw his true form, he’s not in the video and no one can see him. Because of course.)
Bob didn’t have a camera. Bob didn’t have a cell phone. Either the author is just not a good writer, or Bob is a cyborg.
Then we learn why Emily caught the boys’ locker room on fire: a creepy football player hit on her. She said no. He left. She got upset and went to burn his football jersey. The locker room caught on fire (?).
Listen. I never said this book made sense. I warned you it was bad.
Nowhere on Earth tries to be five or six books all at the same time. I get it, unwanted flirting sucks. But guess what. Brad walked away. He didn’t grope her. He didn’t stick his tongue down her throat. If you’re going to make a statement about sexual assault or harassment, maybe don’t squeeze it into a poorly-constructed tale about ET and the Alaskan wilderness. Unfortunately for Nick Lake, I’m currently reading The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis, and have just finished reading both The Grace Year by Kim Liggett and listening to Maybe He Just Likes You by Barbara Dee. Concerning Lake’s attempt at a social message, he done goofed.
On a petty note, the punctuation in this book drove me nuts. In five or so lines that were littered with commas and dashes, we had four colons and a semicolon. This isn’t an academic paper. Prose only ever requires complicated punctuation if you’re either A) Victor Hugo, or B) F. Scott Fitzgerald. And you ain’t, chief. You ain’t. Not even Jane Austen used this many colons and dashes in the span of a page. For anyone wondering, YES, I do have OCD that targets punctuation and its use. And I hate it.
ALSO. STOP BREAKING UP YOUR DIALOGUE WITH ELLIPSES. JUST STOP. It doesn’t effectively indicate a pause, it just makes your writing more stilted and awkward than it needs to be.
Just…I’m so disappointed. This was terrible. I expect more from an author who’s written four or five books. I won’t be reading Nick Lake again.