Aliens on Vacation, by Clete Barrett Smith

Aliens on Vacation, by Clete Barrett Smith (Hyperion, 2011, middle grade, 251 pages).

Poor David (known as Scrub) is exiled from a sunny Florida summer of basketball, swimming, and (maybe) girls to spend the summer with the grandmother he's never met. She's the proprietor of Intergalactic Bed and Breakfast in the middle of just about the nowhere-est part of Washington state. And it takes Scrub just one quick look at the kooky Star Trek meets 1960s summer of love set-up to want to stay in his nice, safe taxi cab until he can go home again...

But the decor is the least of it. The guests are, in fact, aliens. And Scrub's grandma needs his help, because intergalactic tourism is booming, and she just doesn't have time to cope with all her mundane chores, and get all her guests adequately disguised (a necessity for many aliens visiting earth).

Thing is, even the best disguise isn't that great when it comes to the more outlandish alien shapes and sizes. Even the dimmest observer might wonder why a small bed and breakfast needs so much tinfoil (nutritional requirements vary by species). If you have to pull a wagon loaded with a giant alien squid stuffed into a fish tank down to the river, you might, like Scrub, not quite fit in with other young people.

The sheriff is suspicious and hostile--just waiting for a reason to shut down the Intergalactic Bed and Breakfast. His daughter Amy is curious, and friendly--she'll do anything to get inside its doors (but she does seem to like Scrub for his own sake, too).

And then Scrub's camping trip with three young aliens goes horribly wrong...

Now, I generally don't like books in which the main character is in desperate circumstances and things go horribly wrong. But Aliens on Vacation was an exception, and I found it, even the bit with the angry mob, lightly funny. It successfully avoids the twin traps of slapstick and farce that beset books of this kind while keeping up a cheerful tone. A bit of pre-teen angst about conformity and girls, a bit of Growing Up, and a message concerning the value of appreciating difference add a touch of depth.

A fine one for the 10-12 year old who wants a book that will make them laugh, squirm uncomfortably (there is a kiss) and possibly even gag (not the aliens so much, but Grandma's over-the-top organic cooking). Or if you want light reading that will divert you while waiting for a hurricane to arrive, it works just fine for that too. It's nice that Book 2, Alien on a Rampage, should be out in time for next year's Storm of the Century....

Other thoughts at TheHappyNappyBookseller, Abby the Librarian, and the excelsior file

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