Space Refugees

We’re Not from Here by Geoff Rodkey

Publication Date: March 5, 2019

Summary from GoodReads:

Imagine being forced to move to a new planet where YOU are the alien!

The first time I heard about Planet Choom, we’d been on Mars for almost a year. But life on the Mars station was grim, and since Earth was no longer an option (we may have blown it up), it was time to find a new home.

That’s how we ended up on Choom with the Zhuri. They’re very smart. They also look like giant mosquitos. But that’s not why it’s so hard to live here. There’s a lot that the Zhuri don’t like: singing (just ask my sister, Ila), comedy (one joke got me sent to the principal’s office), or any kind of emotion. The biggest problem, though? The Zhuri don’t like us. And if humankind is going to survive, it’s up to my family to change their minds. No pressure. 

This book is absolutely brilliant. There, enough said. Just go and read it. You need more than that? Ok. Here we go.

This book is so topical for many of the things that are going on in our world today, refugees, racism, fake news, mob mentality, but it is done in such a way that makes it easier for kids to take a step back and say, oh I get it now. It is also very humorous with some great characters and a nice supportive family.

I loved the fact that the reader doesn’t know what the ethnicity of Lan’s family is or even whether Lan is a boy or a girl. It is all told in the first person, so Lan’s sexual identity is never revealed. The reader gets to choose. The not knowing the ethnicity worked in so many ways, they were just humans amongst all of these aliens who had their own preconceived notions about what humans were like. But Lan still presents as a typical kid of around 11 years old. Lan is scared at times, but manages to come up with ways to get the aliens to appreciate and finally accept humans.

The aliens were all super well done too, and very creative. The Zhuri not only look like giant mosquitoes, but also have a hive mentality like bees and ants. They tend to all agree with each other. All of the Zhuri that Lan comes in contact with are male, the females are back in the hive. The Zhuri communicate their emotions through smell. It was interesting how Lan equated the smells with things humans would be familiar with, fear smelled like gasoline, laughter like fresh doughnuts.

The Ororo looked like giant, blue-white marshmellows, and are seven times smarter than humans. Lan becomes friends with one of them, Marf, and it is that friendship which helps Lan to develop a plan to get the Zhuri to accept the humans. I really liked Marf, she was quite funny and very smart.

The third species on the planet are the Krik, who technically were there first. They look like green werewolves. When the Zhuri arrived, they quickly took over the planet, mostly by shear numbers, and eventually took over the government. Not a lot was done with this idea, but could be a good discussion in book clubs. Lan does befriend a Krik as well, sort of, Ezger. It is through their interactions that you can sort of tell that the Krik are pretty passive.

As I mentioned before, Lan’s family is wonderful. Both the dad and the mom are very supportive of Lan and his sister, even when things get really tough for them. They always remain calm in front of the kids and had some good advice for how to deal with their situation. Lan’s sister Ila, was also a good solid character. She had a budding singing career back on Earth before things went so terribly wrong, and has issues with depression. It would have been nice to see something more done with this, but time constraints, I get it.

The plot is so well done. It keeps you interested in what is going on while making you think about the issues of immigration, refugees, discrimination, how mobs form and can quickly get out of control. The ending was maybe the only weak part of the story. Humor and singing is what eventually brings the Zhuri around, but the journey there is wonderfully done.

This book is wonderful and so full of things to discuss with kids. I highly recommend it be in every school library, and classroom.

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