Love and Other Alien Experiences by Kerry Winfrey

By Ekta R. Garg

July 12, 2017

Genre: YA fiction

Release date: July 11, 2017

Rated: Bookmark it! / 4 stars

A teen suffering from mild anxiety finds her condition kicked into overdrive when her father abandons her family. She holes up at home, but when someone nominates her for homecoming queen she realizes this may be the only chance she’ll have to force herself out of her comfort zone and back into her life. Author Kerry Winfrey charms readers in her lovely debut novel about facing life’s challenges in Love and Other Alien Experiences.

Mallory Sullivan doesn’t leave the house. Ever. Some kids at her high school assume she got pregnant and stayed at home. Some think she’s doing meth. A few have wondered whether she got arrested and is currently in juvenile detention.

One girl swears Mallory died, although how Mallory could be dead and attend school via webcam is beyond anyone’s guess.

Because that’s the only option left to her. Every morning Mallory checks into first period physics along with other juniors, except she does it through a computer screen. Ever since her major breakdown in the Cheesecake Factory one night when she was at dinner with her brother, Lincoln, and her best friend, Jenni, Mallory doesn’t leave the house.

Of course, Lincoln, Jenni, and Mallory’s mother have all done their best to coax her outside. Mallory even has phone sessions with a therapist who talks often about working up her courage to step onto the front porch for more than a few milliseconds. But the mild anxiety Mallory used to experience before her father left consumes her now, and every time she tries to go get the mail her heart pounds and she feels severely short of breath.

So she spends her days searching online for any clues to her father’s whereabouts and watching the world through her computer. Her chief source of entertainment is the web forum called “We Are Not Alone,” a place where conspiracy theorists swap stories about alien abductions and all things unexplained. With an ardent interest in The X-Files, Mallory has spent quite a bit of time talking through favorite episodes with other members. She enjoys her exchanges with one in particular who goes by the handle BeamMeUp.

A deadline of sorts hangs over Mallory’s head. The teachers at school insist she show up in person to take the upcoming midterms. Then one day while video chatting with Lincoln and Jenni at lunch, Mallory logs in just in time to hear that she’s been nominated for homecoming queen. Now she’s going to have to find a way to make her presence known at the homecoming dance.

She’s never played the popularity game, but the nomination spurs Mallory on to start caring. The winner gets $500, which could kick her search for her dad into high gear. All of a sudden Mallory is scheming with Jenni and Lincoln on how to win the most votes.

It doesn’t hurt that she gets paired with hunky football player Brad, a shoo-in for homecoming king, for a major physics project. She finds out that Brad isn’t a stuck-up jerk, and that gets Mallory thinking. If Brad isn’t what he seems, what does that mean about the other kids at school? And what does that mean about how they see her?

Author Kerry Winfrey offers positive messages and a less sullied side of high school life in her debut novel. Readers will identify with her anxiety. Mallory’s worries may be elevated, but everyone knows what it feels like to be an outsider. Everyone, at one time or the other, has wanted to stay at home when life throws them a bevy of challenges.

Winfrey could have done a better job of balancing the reality of Mallory’s anxiety with what she’s built up in her head. She gets coaxed outside a few times but doesn’t ever really stop to analyze how this means that much of what she feels is manufactured by her sadness at being abandoned by her father. This small lapse notwithstanding, Winfrey doesn’t apologize in any way for the fact that she’s writing a fairly clean book. No salacious high school affair; no extreme cattiness. By giving Mallory a manageable, relatable problem, Winfrey reminds readers that sometimes a challenge really is surmountable.

I recommend readers Bookmark Love and Other Alien Experiences.