Welcome to the kick-off of the blog tour for Kerry Winfrey's Love and Other Alien Experiences! I'm very excited that Paper Lantern Lit asked me to take part in this tour, so let's get to it!
To start, here's a bit about the book:
Love and Other Alien Experiences by Kerry Winfrey.
Published: November 10, 2015.
Published by: The Studio by Paper Lantern Lit.
Source: Received an e-ARC from the publisher for the tour. Thank you, PLL!
In this heartwarming debut by HelloGiggles blogger Kerry Winfrey, a young agoraphobe begins a journey of first love that leads her to the true meaning of home—just by taking one small step outside of her house.
My name is Mallory Sullivan.
My therapist says I have an anxiety disorder.
My brother says I’m an “optimistic recluse.”
Everybody else says I'm a freak.
And they kind of have a point, because I haven't left the house in 67 days and only attend class via the webcam on my laptop. The person I talk to the most other than my mom and brother is the completely obnoxious BeamMeUp, and all we do is argue on New Mexico’s premiere alien message board.
But after yesterday, I have something: a chance. If I can win the homecoming crown by convincing resident hot popular guy and Friday Night Lights spawn Brad Kirkpatrick to go as my date, then maybe #stayathome will never appear next to the name @Mallory_Sullivan ever again.
First, I have to leave my room.
Love and Other Alien Experiences is a well crafted combination of a cute high school drama and an exploration of dealing with and overcoming mental illness. Mallory suffers from severe anxiety and agoraphobia, triggered by her dad leaving their family one day without explanation. She doesn't leave her house, attending school through Skype and socializing largely on an online forum about aliens. But when she is nominated for homecoming queen - as a joke, she's sure - she begins to realize that she might actually want to win. At first just for the prize money - $500, which would help her achieve her desire to find her father on a trip she believes he'll be on. But the more she does to try to present herself as a viable homecoming queen candidate, the more she enjoys it - and the more progress she makes working through her anxiety.
I can't really speak to the handling of agoraphobia except to say that Winfrey wrote it in a way that made me understand and sympathize with Mallory, but I do think that some of the other anxiety manifestations described were conveyed well. I did find that it felt like Mallory moved forward in her progress quite quickly for the severity of the illness, but that was noted in a way by Mallory within the text, and I do understand that it couldn't be drawn out excessively for the purposes of the story. I appreciated the normalization of her seeing a therapist for her anxiety -- it was presented as a positive relationship and the fact that she saw one was never questioned or ridiculed. I think that's an important stance to take in YA, so I was glad to see it here.
One thing Winfrey does very well in LaOAE is Mallory's relationships with her peers. Despite Mallory confining herself to her house, she still has a great relationship with her best friend, Jenni. Jenni is supportive and considerate of Mallory and her struggle, but she also tries gently to help Mallory challenge her comfort zone in a very respectful way. I also appreciated that she has her own interests outside of the main character -- in her beauty vlogging, for example -- as that makes her feel more real as a character. Mallory also has a close relationship with her brother, Lincoln, the dynamics of which have changed since she became housebound. Watching them sort through these changes and work to maintain the strong relationship they have was a wonderful, if easily resolved, exploration of sibling bonds, something I don't find there's enough of in YA.
I found that the storyline surrounding the online alien forum and the mysterious user BeamMeUp was a nice addition to Mallory's story, and of course it plays into the plot more than it initially appears, which was fun. Despite figuring out the big reveal early on, I still enjoyed watching it unfold. I thought it was interesting the way Mallory relied on the forum and BeamMeUp as a comfort zone in dealing with her anxiety, and it only made the way the that plot line resolved even better.
All in all, I really have mostly positive thoughts about Love and Other Alien Experiences. It was fun when it needed to be, and it was serious and fairly realistic, in my opinion at least, when handling Mallory's mental illness. It's an enjoyable, empowering, and ultimately triumphant tale of a young woman facing a difficult struggle and learning that her life doesn't have to end where her mental illness begins.
About the Author:
photo copyright Alex Winfrey
Buy the book: Amazon // Barnes & Noble // iBooks