First Day on Earth
by Cecil Castellucci
Middle School, High School Scholastic 150 pp.
11/11 978-0-545-06082-0 $17.99
“Why is the hardest question in the world to answer.” And sixteen-year-old Mal (short for Malcolm) asks why a lot: Why did his father leave? Why did his mother fall apart? Why did aliens abduct him, probe him, and then abandon him to his lonely life on Earth? His life may be a mess, but it’s summed up nicely by the novel’s epigraph from Oscar Wilde: “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” Not only does Mal believe he was abducted by aliens four years ago, but he meets Hooper, who claims to be an alien yearning to go home. This mystery is at the heart of the novel: Are their stories true? Or are they mentally ill? Or is the idea of aliens just a metaphor for teenagers’ experience in high school, “because everyone here is an alien”? Though Mal claims to be lonely, he does have a small circle of friends who, gradually, are revealed to be outsiders in their own ways, and it’s their relationships that ultimately convince Mal that Earth is the place for him. With its strong voice and aura of mystery, Castellucci’s brief novel offers a unique take on the common theme of finding a place in the world.
From the November/December 2011 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.