Title: Life in Outer Space (2013)
Author: Melissa Keil
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Extent: 305 pages
Release Date: February 1, 2013
Sam Kinnison is a geek, and he’s totally fine with that. He has his horror movies, his nerdy friends, World of Warcraft – and until Princess Leia turns up in his bedroom, he doesn’t have to worry about girls.
Then Sam meets Camilla. She’s beautiful, friendly and completely irrelevant to his life. Sam is determined to ignore her, except that Camilla has a life of her own – and she’s decided that he’s going to be part of it.
Sam believes that everything he needs to know he can learn from the movies … but now it looks like he’s been watching the wrong ones.
How do I begin to review Life in Outer Space? The first thing you need to know, I guess, is that this book is more about the simple things in life. If you take a teenage boy and ask him to genuinely write a diary about his day-to-day life, Life in Outer Space would probably be quite close to it. This is not to say that the book is boring, not at all — in fact, it’s actually funny, relatable, and geeky in the best possible way.
The plot of Life in Outer Space is not terribly uncomplicated: Geek Boy goes about his own life until New Girl comes in. Boy discovers that Girl is beautiful and into the things that he is. There is some Teenage Drama involving jealousy, best friends, family, and future goals. Somehow, all of this might sound like the book will be a dull read, but there is something special in the way Keil tells this story: it’s in the voice of the main character.
I’m not entirely sure how I figure into this scenario. I’ve always imagined myself as that disposable member of the crew who gets killed first and who no-one remembers anyway. Judging by the look Justin gives me as he walks away, I have just been upgraded to the guy who later has his entrails smeared all over the corridor walls.
Sam is your classic geek: he watches horror/sci-fi movies religiously, he plays World of Warcraft, he makes references to films like no tomorrow. The story is told in first person via Sam’s perspective, and since he’s a funny guy, his humour pervades pretty much every scene. Occasionally, his internal monologue reads like a movie script too, which makes the whole book overall just an easy, light-hearted read.
Camilla, the love interest, first struck me as a Manic Pixie Dream Girl (you know, the bubbly, quirky, uncommitted type), but as the story unfolds, she became so much more than that. She was bubbly, yes, but she was also vulnerable. She was quirky for sure, but her fears, goals and insights were also relatable. She might seem uncommitted, but underneath that we saw that it was just how she’s learned to cope with moving around so much.
“And anyway, it’s not always about fitting in, [Sam].”
“Nope. Sometimes, it’s about reading your environment real quick, and then finding the bits that fit you.”
The other characters are also highly entertaining. There’s Mike, Sam’s BFF, who’s super stoic and uncommunicative but really just wants Sam to be happy. There’s Adrian, super socially awkward with little regard to cues. There’s Allison, who’s obsessed with Hello Kitty and anime/manga and is the sole group of their quartet. Seeing them through Sam’s eyes, you really understand why these guys are close friends.
There are a lot of movie references scattered throughout the story to big-name titles such as Alien, X-Men, Harry Potter, etc. but these are not alienating to the non-movie-watcher reader, although having passable knowledge on these things would probably make the scenes funnier. Keil also elaborates on the more specific ones, so you shouldn’t get lost either way.
There is a scene in the very first Alien movie, where the alien spawn bursts out of the guy’s chest and scarpers off inside the spaceship. Everyone else just stands around, mouths hanging open, brains unable to process what has taken place in front of them.
I have a feeling that Camilla Carter has just created her very own alien-exploding-out-of-a-chest-cavity moment.
I don’t normally comment on the setting of contemporary novels because, well, it’s contemporary, but I feel like I have to with this one. Life in Outer Space is set in Melbourne, where yours truly is currently stationed, and man oh man, it really does feel like it. Keil makes references to several local places — pop culture shop Minotaur being one of them — and every time I encountered one of these references, I did a little dance inside. This part of the book was pure fun for me. 😛
The ending is kind of predictable because you’d know where the story is going from the very start. Some books can be totally without twists and turns and just be as enjoyable, however, and Life in Outer Space is definitely one of those books. As they say, it’s not the destination that matters; it’s the journey — and what a fun, entertaining journey this was. 🙂