- Reading level: 8 - 12 years
- Hardcover: 256 pages
- Publisher: Crown Books for Young Readers (5 March 2019)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1524773042
- ISBN-13: 978-1524773045
- Product Dimensions: 14.9 x 2.3 x 21.6 cm
- Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
Amazon Bestsellers Rank:
#2,22,669 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- #1478 in Children's Science Fiction (Books)
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We're Not from Here Hardcover – Import, 5 Mar 2019
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Customers who bought this item also bought
"A quirky sci-fi adventure with a surprising layer of political irony."—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
"Rodkey explores heady concepts such as immigration, tolerance, culture shock, and relative humor in this slapstick-laden allegory"—Publishers Weekly, starred review
"An excellent title for discussion.” –The Bulletin
“Whip-smart, wildly inventive, and truly important.” –Katherine Applegate, author of Newbery Medal winner The One and Only Ivan
"Who knew that giant talking mosquitos and brilliant marshmallow girls on a distant planet could provide such crucial insight into what is happening on our planet right now?" -Adam Gidwitz, author of Newbery Honor book The Inquisitor's Tale
About the Author
Geoff Rodkey is the author of the bestselling Tapper Twins comedy series; the Chronicles of Egg adventure trilogy; and The Story Pirates Present: Stuck in the Stone Age, a comic novel bundled with a how-to guide for kids who want to create stories of their own. He's also the Emmy-nominated screenwriter of such films as Daddy Day Care and RV. Geoff grew up in Freeport, Illinois and began his writing career on his high school newspaper. He now lives in New York City with his wife, three sons, and an easily confused gerbil. Learn more at geoffrodkey.com, and follow Geoff on Twitter at @GeoffRodkey.See all Product description
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It’s not like the human race really wanted to go to Choom, but it’s also not like it really had a choice in the matter. Earth was officially an ex-planet, beyond hope or repair. Attempts to colonize other moons and planets had yielded bupkiss. And best of all, the four species that reside together on Choom (many of which were refugees themselves) were happy to give the humans a chance. It would just take twenty years of bio-suspension for the people to get to Choom. Trouble is, when they arrive the government of Choom has changed and the planet is rejecting them. Humans are too violent a species to accept, they say. That’s why Lan’s family is selected as the guinea pigs to give Choom a try. If they can convince the three dominant species (when did it become three?) to accept them, they’ll have saved humanity. Trouble is, humanity is pretty hard to save when dark governmental forces are determined to turn you away.
The other day I was listening to a critique of the film Green Book and the critic was talking about how regressive the message was. “It confuses prejudice with racism”. For some reason, this line kept coming back to me as I considered this book. I was thinking about how this story would have been constructed even ten years ago. The notion of humans having to prove their worthiness to immigrate to a planet isn’t necessarily new, but what might be new are some of the elements surrounding their arrival. In this book the government has changed since the humans were last in contact with the planet. This government is, as Marf (essentially a friendly superintelligent giant marshmallow) explains it, more conservative than the last one. They don’t want to cause genocide by denying a species access to their planet, but they also don’t want them there. The simple answer then is to fill the televisions with fake news showing the humans out of context. That’s not something I think we would have seen in a middle grade novel in the past. Then there’s the solution to the problem. The humans are initially being asked to assimilate and by the story’s end it’s interesting to note that while they are still trying in some areas (sports, for example) they’ve also carved out their own specific parts in the culture where they thrive. They integrate but remain separate in specific ways. In short, Rodkey knows the difference between prejudice and racism (or, in this case, species-ism).
Ultimately the humans use two skills to win over the planet: humor and music. Put another way, the human race is saved by what essentially boils down to “America’s Funniest Home Videos” and “American Idol”. But along the way there’s a lot of serious consideration about government, mob mentalities, and why we offer refuge to others. Like any good science fiction author, Rodkey knows that an alien planet full of giant mosquitoes is never just an alien planet full of giant mosquitoes. As a result, he has to figure out how much he can say about the times we are currently in, while remaining true to this story and avoiding the dreaded soapbox. It’s a balancing act, honestly. When do you joke and when are you serious? What’s important enough to mention and what do you elide? Finding the right mix is the key. Fortunately, the man is up to the challenge.
It helps that the book really is funny. I mean, right from the start Lan’s talking about how they first heard about Planet Choom when taking a break from filming a video called “Top Ten Toilets of the Mars Station”. I’m not ashamed to say that if I were on the station I would have completely have been on board with that video. Later, when Lan’s family has settled on Choom, Lan meets Marf of the Ororo species and comes up against her dry, deadpan humor. The first time she meet Lan she says she’s there to “convert you to our religion.” For half a second there I fell for it, like Lan, and started having flashbacks to The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. But once she starts describing the painful (and utterly fake) conversion process (“As part of the initiation, Ezger will have to chew off one of your arms. But you will find great spiritual meaning in your suffering”) I knew I’d found my favorite alien. Rodkey isn’t all laughs all the time, but when Lan decides that the only way to save the human race is to make it appear ridiculous (and, therefore, harmless) I had all sorts of real world equivalency thoughts. Get ‘em with the funny, then secure ‘em with the beauty (the music in this case).
We’re Not From Here looks like other silly science fiction tales, but choices were made throughout that kept catching my interest. For example, the main character, Lan, is never defined as being either a boy or a girl. It’s not something I actually noticed on a first read. I had to have it pointed out to me, and once I did I was intrigued to find that the publisher went along with it. Lan on the cover could be male or female. Lan is never referred to as either “he” or “she” in the text. I made note of this. Then there’s the fact that the family prays. We don’t know their religion or to whom they pray. We just know that in times of trial the dad suggested “Why don't we all pray?” and that when they did, “It helped a little.” Prayer, as ubiquitous as it may be in some American households, is very rarely mentioned in works of fiction that are not already overtly about religion. The mention Rodkey includes is casual, a part of day-to-day life, and never the central focus of the tale. It just grounds the book in a specific reality. One notable in its rarity.
There’s not a children’s middle grade book out there right now that isn’t weighted down by the times in which we live. The trick is knowing how to take that knowledge and turn it into something useful. When people round up the books about immigration and refugees that came out in 2019, it is unlikely that they’ll think to include a silly little space tale of humans and the bugs that sport the personality of the Muppets’ Sam the Eagle. Still, it would be foolish to disregard We’re Not From Here. As the very name implies, sometimes you can say a lot with the impossible. Whether they’re winning their enemies over with laughter or silencing them with humanity’s greatest gifts, the kids in this book know what it’s like to be the outsider. Let’s hope they can show some of our real world kids a little of that empathy. After all, that’s what science fiction does best. And that’s why kids eat it up when given half a chance. Forget what the professionals say. Loads of kids are going to find this book a blast, space opera or no.
For ages 9-12.
I’m going to put one of the most brilliant parts of this book up front: We can guess at Lan’s race, but we don’t know his/her gender. Going back to the whole “this book is brilliant” thing, Rodkey states in the intro: “I gave the readers a bit more space to imagine whatever version of Lan works best for them.”
In other words, a book about a planet full of giant flies, is a work of literary brilliance that is probably going to be dissected in college discussion groups for centuries to come, and this is a good thing.
Picture it: Space. Maybe the 2030s. Earth has been destroyed in an unspecified radiation accident or possibly nuclear war, and a small group of humans (first names suggest ethnic diversity and all are fluent in English) live on a space-station-turned-refugee-camp somewhere outside Mars. Perceptive preteen aspiring comedy vlogger Lan Mifune walks us through the weird world, with just enough personality to be engaging and just enough flexibility that anyone can step into Lan’s brain.
Fortunately, distant planet Choom, home to four different alien species and a history of welcoming immigrants, welcomes the humans as long as they promise not to become violent (again). Giant housefly Zhuri, werewolf Krik, marshmallow monster Ororo, and weird worm Nugs were mostly refugees themselves at one point.
Except, something changes during the 20-year biosuspension journey. Now Choom has three species (nobody’s talking about the Nugs), and the refugees are greeted by an Immigration Division official from Choom’s new government: The humans are no longer welcome.
The refugees negotiate one human reproductive unit to come stay as a trial. Lan’s family is chosen due to Mom’s position on the Governing Counsel and sister Ila Mifune’s Earth status as a former American Idol-esque star, and the Mifunes touch down in a high-stakes exchange student arrangement that could make or break the survival of the human race.
In a school of mostly Zhuri and Krik, Lan builds a tentative alliance with the semi-criminal Ororor Marf and her Krik sidekick Ezger. While emotion (produces smells and led to the Nuk’s extermination) is forbidden on Choom, the uneasy trio distributes contraband funny videos of Lan being clumsy and Simpsons-esque cartoons of (allegedly) excessive bodily functions in order to win over the others on Choom.
Their efforts result in a riveting climax of kids dressed in plastic garbage bags and singing American folk songs, triggering a governmental overthrow.
Climax of kids Overthrowing the government dressed in 3-D printed plastic garbage bags
While Rodkey’s second-degree burn against the American immigration system might escape a child reader, it won’t escape an adult: The Krik, once the sole species on Choom, are now a minority population with more humble jobs. The majority Zhuri, second-newest arrivals and most stringent gatekeepers, sneer at their manners and food as disgusting.
Thanks Random House and Geoff Rodkey for the ARC. All opinions are my own.