“We’re Not From Here” by Geoff Rodkey is a fantastic story that could be dystopian, except for the humor-filled pages that seem to be anything but dystopia-like, in spite of the novel’s destruction of Earth and the possible extermination of the human race thing going on. Lan, the narrator, and Lan’s sister and parents are living on Mars after Earth is destroyed by a nuclear apocalypse. But things are not great on Mars. Food and water are running out, clothes are turning to rags, and the air processors are failing so everyone is always tired.
When the “people” of Planet Choom invite those living on Mars to come live on their planet, the humans prepare for twenty years in bio-suspension while their ship takes them to their new home. The only glitch is that when they wake up two decades later near their new home, the residents of Choom have changed their collective mind about bringing humans onto their planet.
What’s a spaceship of humans to do when they are out of options? They don’t have enough fuel, food, or water to go anywhere else, so if they aren’t welcome on Planet Choom, they will all die. Lan’s mother convinces the heads of government of Choom to allow one family to come to Choom and show them that humans are not violent and dangerous people. Lan’s family is chosen to go.
What happens on Choom is 5% really scary and 95% really funny. Lan loves comedy and Lan’s sister was about to become a world-famous singer when Earth was destroyed, so they are hoping that they can bring their art to the planet. Imagine their chagrin when they are told that on Choom no one is allowed to show emotion — at all.
Lan soon finds out that although the Zhuri, mosquito-like creatures, try to not show emotion, it radiates from their body as an odor. The Ororo and the Krik, two other species living on Choom, are vastly outnumbered by the Zhuri, whose government makes all planetary decisions. The story is exciting and the action fills the pages. Rodkey’s clever plot, wonderful dialogue, and truly laugh-out-loud humor fill each page.
This is a book that would be a great choice for a class read aloud. And while avid readers will appreciate the story and really enjoy it, reluctant readers will love it, too. There are, in fact, several levels on which to enjoy the story. There is the pure science fiction element about life on another planet with aliens, but there is also the cautionary tale of our possible destruction of Earth, and the message that we should all be able to learn to live together, no matter what our differences. In the story, the aliens are quite different from each other and from the humans, but what we have in common is what brings all those beings together in the end.
Perceptive readers may notice that Rodkey leaves out physical descriptions of Lan, the narrator. In fact, some may assume, as I did, that Lan is female, and others may assume otherwise. Rodkey did that purposefully. In a guest post at NerdyBookClub, Rodkey writes that for every book, there are two imaginations, one the author’s and one the reader’s. The author creates the blueprint that the reader uses to make a mental image of the story. One grateful reader, a salesperson at an indie bookstore, emailed Rodkey:
“Thank you for not giving Lan a gender. There aren’t quite words to express what that means to nonbinary folks like myself.”
There are so many questions that kids will think about after reading this book that it would shine most as a book club pick. That way, kids can wonder if the author was thinking of the current worries some have about “violent immigrants,” and they can wonder what it would be like to be a homeless immigrant whose very life depends on being accepted and welcomed. How is our society very like the life on Choom, with its three species, all of whom are definitely not treated equally. Conversations about this very thoughtful book will elicit even more questions.
(The publisher has an educator pack for this title which is fabulous and will be very helpful in using the title in the classroom.)
Please note: This review is based on the advance reader’s copy provided by the publisher, Crown Books for Young Readers, for review purposes.