★★★★½It’s always awesome when a book so eagerly anticipated ends up being everything you hoped it would be, and I’m glad to report that Alienated turned out to be such a novel. It just hit the mark for me on so many fronts – romance, story, genre, banter/dialogue, cleverness, characters, relationships, mounting tension… everthing – but I think what really makes this book for me is Lander’s fabulous heroine, Cara. I do so love a good heroine. Cara. You know those “book besties” I’ve talked about before? This girl. Right here. Cara’s not initially thrilled about the prospect of hosting a L’eihr exhange student for many reasons ranging from the necessity of sharing her bathroom, to the fact she’s not sure if she trusts the aliens’ motives. However, if Cara can make it through the year, she gets the best education available and the inside scoop on the L’eihrs her journalistic side is craving. So, as with everything, Cara throws herself into the role of “best hostess ever” with her typical “all in” determined gusto. I love Cara. She’s driven, she’s gutsy, she’s not easily intimidated. She’s charismatic, she’s courageous, and she’s constantly challenging herself. She’s tough, but kind; fierce, but also compassionate. Though she has her reservations about hosting Aelyx and all that entails, she empathizes with him, realizing that everything about Earth is unfamiliar and strange to him, and tries to help him feel more at home. Cara’s integrity is also something I love about her – when she makes a promise she sticks to it and she’s intensely loyal to those she cares about most in the world… or… universe. She’s a girl who’s faced crippling adversity alone before and come through it all the stronger. However, Cara’s never faced a situation like the one Aelyx is about to dump on her doorstep, and she’s about to face the greatest test of her character that’s ever been forced upon her as she is tested in ways she never imagined possible. Which brings us to the alien boy in question. Aelyx. Dude’s got a serious superiority complex. He views humans as weak and stupid, their customs and rituals silly, their priorities ridiculous, though he manages to hide his disdain from the humans around him relatively well. Even so, Aelyx is arrogant, a bit of an annoying know-it-all, and took a little getting used to. But spending time with Cara, being under the constant barrage of her kindness and loyalty time and again, his walls and preconceptions begin to crack. Her unexpected friendship unsettles and confuses Aelyx, causing him to reevaluate everything he thought he knew and causes him to wonder if he’s made a catastrophic error in judgment. Makes him question why his patriotism is starting to feel like betrayal. Aelyx’s journey from pretentious snob to… er… where he eventually ends up is a fun one. I enjoyed his character arc, enjoyed his internal struggle, his juggling of inconvenient and unfamiliar emotions, and his enlightening epiphanies. Romance. Two teens stuck under the same roof who are also sharing classes at school = A LOT of time spent together on page. Romances like this one, where there’s almost nonstop interaction are some of my faves. It’s not all kissy faces and googly eyes, but rather a lot of everyday stuff where “conversations” *nods knowingly* are actual conversations – a gradual “getting to know you,” connecting-on-an-emotional-level type of romance. To me this type of relationship is of the most swoontastic-swoonworthy variety. So to sum up: yeah, there’s romance, and it’s pretty great. Story. Though it’s a pretty prevalent idea throughout this novel that the L’eihr exchange program has a global impact, most of the story takes place within the microcosm of the Sweeney’s household or the high school. However, Landers does a fantastic job of demonstrating on this smaller stage just what is going on at a national level, as HALO, a radical widespread anti-L’eihr group, becomes more and more violent in their opposition of any kind of dealings with the aliens. Midtown’s HALO movement begins to ostracize the entire Sweeney family, as Cara and Aelyx begin to feel the weight of ever-growing persecution, prejudice, and impending violence at school. It’s a wonderfully captivating build up of tension throughout that definitely pays off when Landers reaches the climax. For those of you worried about the “sci-fi” classification. I’d consider this to still be very mild sci-fi. It’s a story that’s more about people (whatever planet they may hail from) than gadgets and tech, though those things do make an appearance from time to time. Themes. For all that this book is funny and cute and romantic, there are some pretty super fantastic themes in this novel designed to make one think; parallels that draw on the history of America’s (ongoing) battle with racial equality and acceptance, and strongly echoes the enforced integration of Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas in 1957. It’s got historical significance, but is also currently relevant as Landers calls on the reader to consider prejudice and the frightening depths to which one can sink to when weighed down by hatred and fear, as well as the devastating consequences that can result from such a mindset. The exploration of friendship in the face of such adversity is also a big theme. What love and loyalty truly look like when it costs you something to stand by your principles. What holding firm to your integrity may cost you. It’s eye-opening and made me ask myself what I would do in Cara’s situation. Other things I liked. Culture clash. The clashing of Earth & L’eihr customs, preferences, beliefs and culture often results in hilarity, laughable misunderstandings, and moments of supreme awkwardness.Mr. & Mrs. Sweeney. There should be more parents like these in YA. I love that they couldn’t keep their hands off each other. On one hand I felt for Cara and the awkwardness that results from having parents that are extremely…*ahem*… amorous. But how wonderful to have parents who are still so enamored with each other. The fairytale doesn’t have to fizzle, the fire will burn as long as it’s stoked, y’all.The end. Ok, I hated the end because it was “The End.” But the setup for Book #2 is fantastic and full of yummy conflict and delicious consequences. Thing that bothered me (but that I tried to ignore because everything else was so enjoyable…) Credibility. The lack of apparent government involvement for most of the book was kind of unbelievable, but I will say this issue did resolve itself somewhat as the book went on. Overall. A funny and romantic culture clash of galactic proportions, Alienated is a captivating read that’s a little bit sweet, a little bit sexy with unexpected (but not at all unwelcome) gravitas and an intriguingly dark undercurrent.