Trade ed. ISBN 978-0-06-246131-5 $16.99
E-book ed. ISBN 978-0-06-246133-9 $7.99
Reviewed from galleys R Gr. 4-6
When Mateo punches a classmate for no apparent reason on the school bus, it’s the first sign that mind-controlling alien leeches are invading Earth. Margot, the new kid, knows she has to help Mateo (who’s mostly just annoyed that the alien Margot removes from the back of his neck has ruined his vintage pink polo) to save West Cove and the world. Short chapters make for a brisk pace as Margot, a freestyle wrestling prodigy, and Mateo quickly piece together an alien mystery from the sudden appearance of a beached whale that’s made the whole town reek for days and the increasingly peculiar behavior of people around town. The genuine rapport the two middle-schoolers develop along the way gives this story a surprising amount of heart, and their friendship is strengthened by occasional bickering: Margot regularly calls out Mateo for his desperate people-pleasing and indecisiveness, and Mateo thinks Margot’s smart, tough loner routine is a snobbish defense. After seemingly putting an end to the alien plot of world domination, the final act of the novel has the two in the lead roles of Romeo and Juliet, progressing through the play while also reflecting on their adventure and newly developed relationship. In the end, Margot sidesteps the awkwardness of the finale’s staged kiss by deciding her Juliet and Mateo’s Romeo would, instead of dying together before the curtain, leave the stage as just friends and hurry off to blow up the beached whale and the alien eggs housed in its carcass. The book’s wacky humor and explosive action will appeal to fans of quirky science fiction, and even non-SF readers will appreciate the charming young heroes.