I’ve had a copy of this book since high school when my best friend told me to read it. I’m still not sure what made me pick it up and read it, but I saw it and knew I needed to read it again.
I didn’t read it quite as fast as I read Autoboyography, but I did read it pretty fast. The subject matter of this book was just too heavy to binge even though I’ve read it before. I even had to take a break after reading it for a day or two before I jumped into the next one.
The Only Alien on the Planet sees the protagonist, Ginny, moving to a new town during high school which is awkward enough and then she encounters Smitty Tibbs. Smitty does not talk. He does not interact with anyone. He’s protected by Ginny’s new friend Caulder, but that’s about it. No one knows why Smitty is the way he is. Caulder has normalized Smitty in a way that Ginny is unable to understand and the book is about how all of this breaks down and Smitty comes out of his shell.
Randle did a great job of writing to her audience without writing down to them. This book was originally published in 1995, so at the very early stages of young adult literature being as defined as it is today. Not only does she embody her characters well, but she portrays them and gives them dialogue that is on the edge of adulthood. This quote about women and first kisses really made me think about how far ahead of her time she was (and yes this is the 1990s).
“I’d had some of these feelings before — you go out with a guy because you think he’s nice, and maybe, after a little while, you let him kiss you — or maybe you kiss him — and then, all of a sudden, everything changes. All of a sudden, he thinks he owns you, he thinks he’s got these rights to your life and your thoughts and everything you do. The chances are, you didn’t mean that much by it in the first place, or maybe it turned out, after you got to know him, you didn’t really even like him all that much. Maybe he’s repulsive to you, now — but it’s too late. Because he thinks what he thinks. Because you let him think it, at least for that moment. And now feelings are going to get hurt, and it could be very ugly. And when you get down to the truth, you’re the one who made the mess.” (138-139)
It’s hard to make comparisons of this to the other young adult novels I’ve read recently because they’ve either been historical fiction or LGBT related. Honestly, if I had to compare this to someone it would be to books I haven’t reviewed on here yet like some sort of combination of Jim Grimsley’s debut novel Winter Birds and the follow-up Dream Boy. (I have copies and plan to re-read them in the future. His site has brief descriptions.)
As I was re-reading this, I constantly sought for why I identified with this book so much. And I still don’t 100% know what it is. Part of it was this perfect line Ginny’s older brother said to her early in the novel,
“Never, never make the mistake of thinking you’re the only alien on the planet.” (4)
The other part I identified with was the outsider status of Smitty. There’s a scene when Ginny kisses Smitty and I feel like that was what I was waiting for when I first read this book. I wasn’t waiting for my first kiss, but more so waiting for the kiss that would wake me up. [See last post about coming out in Autoboyography.] The scenes where Ginny pushes Smitty beyond what she know she’s capable of and what he’s ever had to deal with before is simultaneously heartbreaking and heartwarming. Experiencing the cracks in real-time via Ginny and her observations and then later once Smitty begins speaking and asking questions experiencing them again via his questions hit me in ways very few other books did growing up.
Recommendation: Definitely worth a read. This book has a timeless quality that is hard to find in a lot of the young adult novels that I’ve read in the last few years and yet at the same time has a realism that’s very 1990s. Re-reading this as an adult is only incrementally different from reading this as a teenager, but there were things that I could only appreciate with 10-15 more years life experience.
Opening Line: “The first time I ever saw Smitty Tibbs, I was having one of the worst days of my life.”
Closing Line: “And he put the cards down.” (Whited out to avoid spoilers, highlight to read.)
Additional quotes from The Only Alien on the Planet
“That’s what I love about good films, and good books — you can climb right into them and be there. I just hate it when I’m doing that, and then somebody butts in and messes with my concentration.” (52)