Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Review - Aliens Ate My Homework by Bruce Coville

Short review: Rod Albright is a nerdy clumsy kid afflicted by bullies. Then the aliens show up.

Billy bullies Rod
Then aliens eat Rod's homework
Catch a criminal

Full review: Rod Albright is a kid with the typical troubles that afflict a lot of kids. He's overweight and clumsy, leading to his nickname "Rod the Clod". He is bullied by the class bullies Billy Becker and Arnie Markle. His single mother is overstretched in her commitments, meaning that he has the responsibility of watching his younger twin siblings Little Thing One and Little Thing Two. And he has a science project due. And then an alien ship crashes through his bedroom window, destroying his science project and handing him a whole collection of decidedly atypical troubles.

Having a spaceship crash through your bedroom window sounds pretty catastrophic, but in the case of the Ferkel, the ship is only two feet across, so other than a broken window and a crushed paper mache volcano, Rod's bedroom is mostly unscathed. After running afoul of Grakker, the ship's irritable two-inch tall captain, Rod isn't quite so lucky, getting a tiny hole in his ear. Once the Ferkel's diplomatic officer Madame Pong shows up, things get a little less tense. Rod learns that his unexpected guests are members of the Galactic Patrol on the trail of an interstellar criminal. Rod also finds himself involuntarily accorded the status of deputy and ordered to assist the crew of the Ferkel in their efforts to apprehend the fugitive.

After meeting the rest of the ship's crew, breaking regulations, and watching helplessly while the aliens carve up his volcano for fuel and food, Rod carries the Ferkel to a nearby field in order to allow the crew to use their size-altering technology to return the ship (and its crew) to their normal size. But when this doesn't work, Rod finds himself acting as an involuntary depurty again as part of the Ferkel's crew set about repairing the ship while Rod and the rest - Grakker, Madam Pong, and the ship's mental officer Snout, set off for Rod's school to try to get information about the criminal they are pursuing. Why Rod's school? Because in a massive coincidence, it turns out that the BKR, the criminal they are pursuing, is someone Rod knows.

Once at school, Rod runs into trouble with Arnie and Billy again, as Arnie spots the aliens Rod is carrying in his backpack. Mistaking them for toys, Arnie appropriates Grakker as his own. Grakker, being an alien and not a toy, returns to Rod's desk while the class is at lunch, and being hungry himself, eats Rod's math homework - which spawns the title of the book. of course, it also spawns more ire from Arnie directed towards Rod. But when Arnie tries to make Rod pay for the crime of Grakker disappearing from Arnie's desk, Snout comes to Rod's aid and Arnie ends up getting the worse end of the exchange. Through this section of the book, two themes common to Coville's books begin to come through clearly: (a) bullies will keep being bullies unless stood up to, and (b) the human race is cruel and barbaric and alien society is better.

But the story moves on as the crew of the Ferkel close in on their quarry. Well, they don't so much close in on their quarry as go stright to his house, discover who their real target is almost immediately, and then spend the rest of the book trying to apprehend him in zany action scenes. Along the way, Rod gets captured, shrunk to two-inches tall himself, has to deal with the kidnapping of his two siblings, and gets captured again. He also gets a tour of an alien ship, some new friends, and helps save the day. He also gets some help clearing up a few problems that he has had stemming from his interactions with his schoolmates.

In the end, almost every plot thread is wrapped up and everyone is happy (except, of course, for the villains). In fact, there is only one plot thread left hanging, which turns out to be the connection between Aliens Ate My Homework and the rest of the Alien Adventures series - and that plot thread is downplayed by the characters. It almost seems like Aliens Ate My Homework was originally conceived and written as a stand-alone book that was later revamped into the beginning of a series which makes it sort of like The Hobbit. As a result, while the book does kick off a really good series, it also serves up a very strong and enjoyable story on its own.

Subsequent book in the series: I Left My Sneakers in Dimension X

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  1. I remember thinking the same thing - this was the book that inspired the series! Definitely stand alone and my kids' favorite.

  2. @Julia Rachel Barrett: That's one of the things I love about this book - it is great on its own, and it kicks of a really good series too. It's like a one-two punch of goodness.