I'm never going outside again.
Mallory hasn't left the house in sixty-seven days--since the day her dad left. She attends her classes via webcam, rarely leaves her room (much to her brother's chagrin), and spends most of her time watching The X-Files or chatting with the always obnoxious BeamMeUp on New Mexico's premier alien message board.
But when she's shockingly nominated for homecoming queen, her life takes a surprising turn. She slowly begins to open up to the world outside. And maybe if she can get her popular jock neighbor Brad Kirkpatrick to be her homecoming date, her classmates will stop calling her a freak.
In this heartwarming and humorous debut, Mallory discovers first love and the true meaning of home--just by taking one small step outside her house.
|Publisher:||Feiwel & Friends|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.74(d)|
|Age Range:||13 - 17 Years|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
IT'S FRIDAY MORNING AND, as usual, I'm sitting cross-legged on my unmade bed, balancing a bowl of Lucky Charms on my knees and trying not to spill milk on my laptop. Again. And, just like I do every day, I'm half paying attention to the morning news show playing on the TV that sits on the corner of my dresser. The hosts are cooing over a cat that learned how to ride the bus. As interesting as that story is, it's no match for what's happening on my computer.
Things are heating up on We Are Not Alone, or, as its tagline describes it, Roswell's Destination for All Things Extraterrestrial. It's an Internet hangout for super nerds, space freaks, sci-fi lovers, and paranoid weirdos near Roswell — and, as a major alien obsessive from Reardon, an hour away, I definitely qualify.
I scroll through the forum categories — Abduction Experiences, TV Shows, Declassified Information, Equipment — and click on General Theories to check the stats for my latest post as I shovel another spoonful of chalky marshmallows into my mouth. I have 700 "likes" and just 150 "dislikes" for my totally perfect rebuttal of the claims that aliens were behind the recent disappearance of an Air America flight over the Atlantic. I mean, yes, I believe in aliens, but I also believe that planes crash all the time. (My brother, Linc, says the only thing nerdier than being obsessed with aliens is being the downer who destroys everyone else's theories.)
LittleGreenMen: AlienHuntress OMG YOU ARE MY QUEEN
BlueSuperNova: AlienHuntress wins at everything!!!
BeamMeUp: AlienHuntress, that's nice in theory, but it's not totally rigorous. Planes crash all the time, but they don't usually disappear into thin air. No one's found any debris and ...
Ugh. BeamMeUp appointed himself my own personal devil's advocate two weeks ago and hasn't looked back. His most recent comment is true to his pompous, know-it-all form.
Cringing, I read on. He actually uses bullet points to list all the ways I'm wrong. Bullet points! What is this, a PowerPoint presentation?
I shake my head and mutter, "Not today, buddy," and begin typing my reply. The click of the keys keeps pace with my mom's heels as they tap across the floor downstairs.
AlienHuntress: BeamMeUp, you think we should just assume every missing aircraft is the result of aliens? Should we amend all of Amelia Earhart's biographies to state that she was probably abducted by extraterrestrials?
I'm getting into the groove when the morning show host's soothing voice announces that it's time for a check on weather and traffic, which means it must be 8:15, which means ... Shit. Class is at 8:25. And I'm going to be late.
I slip my laptop off my lap and pound down the carpeted stairs, straight through the dining room into the kitchen. My cereal bowl rings against the sink when I toss it in. My mom, who's adjusting a high heel while shoving some gross protein bar in her mouth, scowls.
"Are you running late again?" she says with her mouth full.
"Sorry, sorry, sorry!" I shout, shooting upstairs as she sighs a long, overly dramatic "Mal ..." in frustration.
My laptop whirs on my tiny twin bed. Even though my fingers are itching to get back to We Are Not Alone and the virtual smack-down I'm laying on BeamMeUp, I put some effort into picking out a normal outfit to appease Lincoln. My brother's so eager to be a film director that he thinks he can art direct every aspect of our lives. He still hasn't forgiven me for a sweatshirt/sweatpants combo that he claimed made me look like "an '80s workout instructor."
Today, I'm going with the "Classic Mal": a pair of jeans and nondescript but fitted T-shirt. Then, on to hair. My BFF, Jenni Agrawal, a beauty vlogger who posts weekly tutorials on topknots and contouring for her adoring fans on her YouTube channel, Just Jenni, would probably try to give my locks a cute name, like "beachy waves." But I'm honest enough to know that "As Good As It's Going to Get" is more accurate. My shaggy brown bangs will not be tamed.
"Crap!" I mutter when I can't find my books in the pile of clothes on the floor. They must be on the kitchen table, where I did homework last night. I go back downstairs and slide across our perpetually polished hardwood floor into the kitchen, where my books are stacked next to my mom's giant red purse.
Sighing, I pick up the purse and open the front door just as my mom is pulling the minivan back into the driveway. The dry heat is already almost unbearable, and I immediately start to sweat.
"I swear, that's the last time I forget!" she calls out from the driver's-side window.
"I'm going to start charging a fee!" I shout. My toes curl nervously over the edge of the doorframe.
"Just bring it here, honey," she calls, holding her hand out.
I push one bare foot out the door, wincing when it touches the porch. A bead of sweat drips down my forehead and my stomach starts to churn with the force of a thousand chalky marshmallows. A pair of big, invisible arms squeezes my chest and my breath gets shallow.
"Mallory!" Even from a distance, I can see that her cheeks have gone slack — her disappointed look. I despise that look, how it's become so familiar. Before I can stop myself, I take a full two steps onto the porch so that look will disappear. But her minivan, which I know is only fifteen feet from me, looks like it's at the end of a tunnel that's getting longer and longer.
I'm shaking harder. It's loud now, like someone turned the volume up on the world. The purse feels heavier by the nanosecond while the taste of cereal climbs up my throat. With one deep, shaky breath, I walk down the porch stairs and fling the purse toward her open car window. Her slender hand plucks it out of the air, and the sound of her mascara tube falling to the ground explodes in my ears. My toes catch on the sharp edge of the entryway as I haul myself through, but the pain is drowned out by the animal need to just get inside.
The door slams behind me so hard that it bounces off the frame and swings back open, like it's mocking me. My chest heaves.
Back in the cool, brightly lit safety of my house, everything snaps into focus — the neat line of our shoes by the door, Lincoln's tennis racket on the living room sofa, the clock on the mantel that reads 8:27.
I launch myself up the stairs and straight to my laptop, logging in just in time to say, "Here!" when Mr. Parker calls my name.
Many juvenile birds possess plumage that allows them to blend into their surroundings. Because they can't yet fly to escape predators, these vulnerable young birds camouflage themselves until they're older and stronger.
— The Birder's Guide,1989
MR. PARKER'S FACE LOOMS on my screen, Cokebottle glasses and all, like it always does when I log in. Satisfied by my telepresence, he moves down his class roster, ignoring the flood of snickers and whispers that greets me when I log on.
From my vantage point at the very back of the class, I can see almost everybody. To my left, there's evil Pia Lubeck, whose dark hair is so shiny it practically creates a glare. To my right, a bunch of football dudes appear as one giant mass of Reardon's blue and gold. Jenni, my official BFF, is subtly waving at me from her seat in the front row.
Maybe a more progressive school would have allocated some of the football budget for one of those "remote telepresences," but good old Reardon High just set up a laptop in the back of all my classrooms. Not very high-tech, but it works, albeit in an incredibly awkward way. If that's the price I have to pay for attending school via webcam because of, as Reardon High School's guidance counselor, Mrs. Boone, put it, my "personal issues," I'll pay it.
Personal issues. That vague phrase that always means "a person who's dealing with something super messed up." Like when our freshman year history teacher left school for a "personal issue" that really meant he got arrested for shoplifting, or when a celebrity takes time off from his career for a "personal issue" that's actually just a drug problem.
As Lincoln and Jenni tell me, some kids at school think I got pregnant and I'm at home with an ever-expanding midsection. Some kids think I started doing meth. Patrick Cruz suggested he has "proof" that I got arrested for a combination of those things and am currently attending Reardon High via a computer at juvie. Some kids think I have an allergy to sunlight and have to stay in my basement 24/7. And at least one person, noted weirdo Monica Bergen, is convinced that I'm actually dead. How she thinks I'm appearing on webcam, I'll never understand. If I were a ghost, the very last place I'd haunt would be Reardon High.
I haven't broken any laws or developed any drug problems, as much as the student population of Reardon High might think I have. The truth is much less sordid, but a whole lot more embarrassing: My dad left, and now I can't step one foot outside my house without feeling like the outside world is going to physically crush me.
I guess if we're talking about my anxiety, the even truthier truth is it started way before that, like pretty much when I popped out of the womb. While other kids were climbing trees and falling off their bikes, I was worried about hitting my head and developing a brain injury, or a scrape that would inevitably lead to gangrene, or coming into contact with bird poop (which, FYI, can carry over sixty diseases). I've always been nervous, but it was all under control — at least livable — until the morning I woke up and my dad was gone.
He's always been prone to going away for long weekends by himself and conveniently "forgetting" to tell us when he'd be back. When he left, I tried to keep my worry at a 4.5 level ... that is, until he didn't come back the next week, or the next. When a month passed, my mom told me, in language I'm sure she learned from her therapist, that it wasn't my fault. Lincoln said good riddance, took our years-old family portrait off the mantel, and didn't give it a second thought.
But me? I couldn't — can't — let it go. I knew my dad wasn't happy here with us — I'm not an idiot — but I didn't expect him to just leave. And if that one unexpected thing could happen, what else might happen?
And then there was the Cheesecake Factory Incident.
No, I didn't OD on pasta carbonara or fall into a cheesecake coma. That would have been so much better.
Jenni, Lincoln, and I were at the Cheesecake Factory celebrating our last final of the school year. Lincoln was happily digging into his dessert when I saw it: the tan jacket, the growing bald spot — him, at a table across the dining room. I stood up, my silverware clattering to the floor, and ran across the room. I grabbed his shoulders, shouted, "Dad!" and he turned around to reveal ... a man who wasn't my dad, looking at me like I was about to assault him.
"Is everything okay?" asked a Cheesecake Factory waiter, barely covering up his alarm. Jenni and Lincoln caught up to me and each grabbed a shoulder, tugging me back.
That's when everything got blurry, when Jenni and Lincoln tried to hold me up as I sunk to the ground. Everything in that cavernous dining room with its fake columns echoed so loudly that it felt like the clanking silverware and murmurs were screaming inside my head.
I couldn't breathe. I couldn't stand. I couldn't deal.
The next thing I remember is being in my room, safe in bed. The day after, when I tried to get the mail, I crumpled on the sidewalk. The day after that, I threw up all over the porch stairs. There was always tomorrow.
But tomorrow turned into weeks and months, and the reasons to stay inside kept piling up.
Mom, Lincoln, Jenni, some teachers — everyone who knows — think I'm overreacting. It's written on their faces every time one of them tries to "encourage" me out of doors and I break into a full-body sweat. But you try to leave your house when leaving your house feels like having eight heart attacks while your insides turn inside out. After four weeks and a diagnosis of an anxiety disorder complemented by agoraphobic tendencies, my mom and Mrs. Boone wanted me to go to school, even if I wasn't leaving the house. That's when my online education started.
As soon as Mr. Parker turns his sweater-vested back to the class to retrieve something in the classroom closet, one of the football players throws a wad of paper across the room.
Clearly, my room is a far superior learning environment to Reardon, panic attacks notwithstanding.
Plus, from the comfort of my room I get to be Jenni's "gossip mole," which means that I eavesdrop for her — because other than when I pipe up to correct someone ("Hermione Granger syndrome" according to my mom, whose book club read Harry Potter for Fantasy and Fromage month), I'm basically in stealth mode. Monica Bergen (the one who thinks I'm dead) is talking about the French lessons she's taking for the Europe trip. Boring. Then she moves on to who she thinks will be on this year's homecoming court. Double boring.
I turn my attention to the football huddle, where Brad Kirkpatrick — also known as Reardon High's golden-boy football star and my next-door neighbor — is whispering to Cliff, a kid who had no choice but to become a football player after his parents named him Cliff.
"Having Jake back in town has been awesome," Brad says. "He helps me practice."
"Your brother?" Cliff asks. "Wasn't he in jail or something?" Brad shrugs, or at least gets as close as his massive shoulders will let him get to a shrug. I'm even a little disappointed when Mr. Parker, now at the smartboard, tuts them. At least that conversation promised to be more interesting than football or homecoming, Reardon's hottest topics.
"Mr. Parker, are we going over the homework?" Jenni says from her seat at the front of class.
Pia Lubeck rolls her huge green eyes and mimes gagging behind Jenni's back. Cliff lets out a laugh that sounds like a pig's would if pigs could laugh. The back of my best friend's neck flushes red and she mumbles a small "never mind" before turning her eyes to her desk.
I mute my webcam and release a tsunami of insults that would definitely get me suspended if I were physically in the classroom. Pia's just jealous that Jenni is an incredible, breath-taking, perfect Indian supermodel walking the earth. Jenni, the only one of my friends who came to check on me, the only one who called every evening to ask me, calmly and without judgment, when I was coming back to school. Everyone else — including Sarah-Beth Greeley, who used to round out our trio — either faded away slowly or disappeared immediately.
Getting more time in person with Jenni is one of the only things I miss about Reardon. Actually, it's the only thing I miss about Reardon. I'd rather spend my time talking about UFO crash landings on We Are Not Alone than hanging out in the school hallways. I was planning on taking some college courses during my junior year anyway.
As Mr. Parker shuffles through some papers at his desk, Jenni darts her eyes to her lap. I can just see the flurry of her fingers as she types out a message. Five seconds later, I get her text.
Caroline asked me to be in her lab group!!! THANK YOU!!!
I smile to myself, impressed by Jenni's relentless social striving and my cyber-stalking skills. Reading tons of inane conversations between Caroline and her friends on Facebook and Twitter and tumblr and Instagram helped me deduce that she missed a deadline for a summer course at Reardon Community College. It's amazing how much one girl can complain in missives of 140 characters about how she'd never be able to get into Vanderbilt without that class. It just took one conversation with his favorite daughter for Mr. Agrawal, head of admissions at RCC, to bend the rules a bit. And apparently it paid off.
Jenni treats the popular kids like they're celebrities and she's an E! red carpet reporter. And, when she's not working on the yearbook committee, attending workout classes at the Y, volunteering, or going to private chem and calc lessons, she works on her YouTube videos. Even to someone like me, who's never going to attempt milkmaid braids or perfect a cat eye, they're awesome — though the "popular" girls don't seem to think she's pretty and put-together enough to fit in with them. I've tried explaining to Jenni that her inability to be insta-besties with Caroline and Pia probably just means that she's, you know, a nice person. But Jenni still, more than anything, just wants to be accepted.
Excerpted from "Love and Other Alien Experiences"
Copyright © 2017 Kerry Winfrey.
Excerpted by permission of Feiwel and Friends.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3.5 stars Honestly, I didn't remember requesting this, but I was intrigued by the synopsis when it came up in my review pile. I liked Mallory. She is a dynamic MC and I did like being in her head. It was interesting to see her navigate her world and eventually branch out. She was definitely easy to root for. Plot wise, it was a bit repetitive, but it makes sense in the story. I liked seeing all of the shenanigans that Jenni and Lincoln set themselves up for. And the last couple of chapters were the best part of the story. Overall, it was a cute story and a quick read. **Huge thanks to Feiwel and Friends for providing the arc free of charge**
Attention all nerds, geeks and various others who believe there is alien life out there, this is the latest in great nerd-centric fiction. With humour, alien message boards, handsome (and slightly irritating) boys next door, and a healthy dose of sarcasm, Love and Other Alien experiences is a fantastic and fun book. Mallory hasn't left her house in months. She attends school via webcam and spends her free time on the local online alien discussion board, where she enjoys arguing with the irritating BeamMeUp. But her mother is worried about her, and Mallory's brother, Lincoln, and best friend, Jenni, are determined to force Mallory back into society and the world outside her bedroom. Their big idea is helping Mallory win the homecoming queen crown when she is shockingly nominated. Mallory has her own plan, hoping the prize money will help her reconnect with her father. This book so easily could have been ridiculous or overly dramatic or trite. Most of the book is based around the lead up to naming the homecoming court winners and there is nothing that says overdone teen romance cliches like homecoming. And yet it's is a genuine and very enjoyable story, both amusing and touching. There is nothing that is overdone or eye-roll worthy, and just when you think things will descend into the predictable, there is something that shakes it up. This book deals with some heavier issues, namely Mallory's agoraphobia and her father's abandonment. On the lighter side is the whole homecoming madness, her joking and planning with Lincoln and Jenni, and of course the boys next door. While this book could, by definition of there being two main boys with possible romantic potential in this story, aside from Mallory's brother, fall under the 'love triangle' banner, it has none of the ridiculous drama that can result from love triangles. While the romance, slowing unfolding and surprising in its charm and sweetness, is a great aspect of this story, it is Mallory and her story that it the true standout of this book. Mallory is a strong character, despite her fear of what lies outside her front door. Her voice is refreshing and her use of humour and sarcasm is so much fun. Mallory's family moto is "why be serious when you can be sarcastic", so there is no shortage of great lines. In fact, the whole book is enjoyable, and yet it doesn't shy away from dealing with the hard stuff, which adds a depth and reality to this lighthearted book. Mallory struggles to balance her desire to stay inside where it's safe with her need to piece her family back together. She wants to overcome her phobia, but it takes realising what her fear is stealing from her to force her to reevaluate the way she interacts with those around her. My only complaint: I wanted more scenes with Jack, and maybe more of an explanation about how he knew who she was. Love and Other Alien Experiences was a surprise, both because of its refreshing humour, but also it's ability to mix the harsh reality of life with a phobia with all the romance, laughs and high school drama you expect from a young adult contemporary. The publishers provided a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.