Alien Invasion and Other Inconveniences, by Brian Yansky (Candlewick, 2010, YA, 227 pages)
Jesse was an ordinary teenager, neither a follower or a leader, just sitting in class learning about the Great Depression, when every single other person in his classroom dropped dead. They were terminated by alien invaders.
But Jesse isn't killed. Instead, he hears a voice inside his head: "You are one of the few product who can hear. Congratulations." (p 2) Which means that Jesse is now a slave of Lord Vertenomous, who's just claimed earth for the Republic of Sanginia.
Unfortunately for Lord Vertenomous, Jesse isn't the sort to just sit back and accept life as a "product." Contact with the alien minds is awaking abilities inside him, and together with four other captured teenagers, Jesse begins to think about escape and resistance.
It's hard to escape psychic alien overlords who can kill you with a thought. But Jesse and his gang--Michael, the football player, Lindsey, the wanna-be model, Lauren, the activist girl, and Catlin, the fey girl used by Vertenomous as his mistress--aren't going to take no for an answer.
It's a wild page-turner of a book. The 10-second victory of the aliens plunges the reader (and of course the characters) into a nightmare, but Yansky writes with a lightness of touch, and even wry humor, about the unthinkable (the title's a good indication of his tone). He skates lightly over the utterly unspeakable tragedy that his protagonists are experiencing, and although this at times didn't ring true to me (the lack of attention to the horrors of Catlin's situation, in particular, troubled me more than somewhat), one can imagine that if the characters themselves stopped and actually thought too much about it all, they'd just collapse. And yet he doesn't pull his punches, either--there are moments of savage violence that bring home the reality of life as "product" who can be killed at a moment's notice.
At times he strays a tad far, I thought, toward farce (for instance with the alien professor of human studies, whose enthusiasm far exceeds his grasp of his subject), but this is balanced by more serious and heartfelt moments, such as Jesse's dreams of his dead father. And further depth is added by the understated but very present parallel to the European invasion of the Americas.
If you are looking for an alien invasion story with intense characterization and gritty reality, you'd be better off going with Pod, by Stephen Wallenfels (my review). But if you prefer your dastardly alien invaders on the lighter side, with more conscious humor, this is the book for you!
(disclaimer: copy received from the author)