by Suze Reese
Available as: paperback, Kindle edition
Publisher: Valarian Press
Publication date: April 23, 2012
Suggested tags: young adult, paranormal, aliens, romance
First in the ExtraNormal series. From Goodreads:
"Mira Johns is pretty much like any other teenage girl. Except that she knows how to harness electro-magnetic energy to communicate without words. And she's really, really far from home. Her assignment as an emissary to Earth sounds fairly simple: blend in, observe, and stay away from the planet’s primitive males. But after she finds one mysterious boy too irresistible for stupid rules, she realizes the real reason she's supposed to keep her distance: mates from her world can die if separated. But a series of serious accidents make it clear that someone wants to force her return. Mira decides her only hope is to uncover the truth to why she, the most mediocre of candidates, was actually chosen for this assignment—before the agency discovers her secret and sends her back home."
I was kindly provided a Kindle edition of this book for free by the author.
ExtraNormal is exactly my kind of YA. It's fast-paced, it's smartly written, it's got a love story that leaves you sighing, and (the icing on the literary cake) it's paranormal.
ExtraNormal sucks you in from the start, throwing you right in the middle of Mira's struggles to blend in with the human students at Los Robles High School. She knows the rules for her mission, but sticking to them proves to be a challenge. Luckily, her best friend Geery is only a stream (a sort of telepathic communication) away. Although Geery is back home on Nreim, she keeps Mira company from afar (slight SPOILER - highlight to read: and she turns out to be quite a great investigator when Mira finds herself deeply embroiled in a dangerous mystery).
I haven't read a lot of alien paranormal books, because I'm just not big on space or sci-fi. But Reese creates a really interesting version of aliens (who would prefer not to be called aliens, thank you). They look like us, sort of. But they don't like the way we smell. And their technology is advanced pretty far past ours. But Mira still finds a lot to enjoy about life on our planet. Her discovery that our food is way better than their food was one of my favorite recurring moments in the book.
Despite Mira's resolve to avoid interaction, especially with human guys, she keeps running into one guy in particular: Jesse Mecham. He's a bit of an outcast, due to a mysterious situation at school last year, but Mira sees past everyone else's apprehension and becomes friends with him. Good friends. And even though she tries to resist, she can't help falling in love with him. Which is a huge deal for a nafarian like Mira, because Jesse's a human, and human-nafarian matches are a big, life-threatening no-no.
This sets up a wonderfully conflicted paranormal love story. She can't love him, but she does, desperately, and he loves her as honestly and sweetly as any teenage boy possibly could. He can't know the truth about her, but he's asking questions, and Mira's having a hard time hiding things. And ultimately, by falling in love with him, Mira may have sabotaged her own future at home. She could never love and become linkmates with a fellow nafarian now, because she loves Jesse. And that is a serious problem. (SPOILER - highlight to read: Because she's already linked with Jesse, and when she goes home, aside from being ostracized due to her inability to ever find a linkmate there, being separated from Jesse could literally kill her. Is this a beautifully tragic love story or what?!)
The romance between Mira and Jesse is a big part of the book, and I loved every moment of it. They have an innocent, tender relationship that is based on pure love, not a superficial attraction based on physical acts. (To put it bluntly, their relationship doesn't revolve around sex.) Call me a prude, but I prefer to read about true love, with a true emotional connection between characters, and that's exactly what Mira and Jesse have. (SPOILER - highlight to read: The scene near the end, when Mira is able to stream with Jesse, left me nearly in tears. It was just so sweet and beautiful! I could picture them perfectly: heads together, smiling softly, looking into each other's eyes. Jesse knows her secret and he loves her just the same. I could never express the full extent of the warm fuzzies that scene gave me!) But another major part of the book is the mystery that starts building almost as soon as Mira arrives, which becomes more involved and more dangerous as each day passes.
I really don't want to give away anything that has to do with the plot, because it's so exciting to learn it piece by piece along with Mira. As she starts putting the clues together, she finds they involve those around her: the teachers, Dr. Alison and Dr. Tom; the nextdoor neighbor, Becca; the annoying guy at school, Everett, who always seems to be around when trouble arises. The plot builds and builds until it all comes to an exciting, dramatic end, and you're not sure until the very last moment if Mira's going to come away as a hero or a failure. Some things that are revealed were a little foreseeable (SPOILER - highlight to read: for example, I knew Everett was involved with the Stones somehow, and as clues were dropped I did guess that he was their son), but most caught me off guard, which I loved. (SPOILER - highlight to read: Like, I knew Jesse would have some key role in all this, but I wasn't sure what his hearing "noise" had to do with it, and I did not expect him to be part-nafarian. Caught me off guard with that one!) The conclusion leaves things wide open for the next books in the series; it could go pretty much any direction from here, which makes it all the more intriguing and makes me wish the next book was out NOW.
ExtraNormal is one of the best YA books I've read in a long while; it's got well-crafted relatable characters, an innocently passionate love story, a strong storyline that keeps you compulsively flipping pages, and an ending that leaves you dying for more. I'll definitely be snagging the next book in the ExtraNormal series as soon as it hits shelves and/or ereaders!
Overall rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Coming on April 25: My ExtraNormal Blog Tour post, including an interview with my favorite character from ExtraNormal! Hmm, who could it be...? :)