Thursday, May 17, 2012

Signal, by Cynthia C. Felice

Title:  Signal
Author: Cynthia C. Felice
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
Year: 2009
Pages: 160
Genre:  Realistic Fiction
Themes:  Family, Friendship, Loss
Age Range:  4th-7th Grade

Summary: (from Goodreads)
One day while running on the trail near his house in upstate New York, Owen McGuire meets a girl with startling green eyes and bloody cuts all over her body who seems to be utterly alone. Her name is Campion, after the wildflower that is an alien species in the area—alien meaning “from someplace else”—and Campion claims to come from someplace else entirely, a planet called Home. She plans to signal her parents to come pick her up in their spaceship. Owen agrees to help, and as he does, he feels happier than he has in a long time: his mother died a year and a half ago, and now he and his workaholic father live together like two planets on separate orbits, in a new house far from his friends. What will he do when Campion asks him to come with her into outer space, away from his lonely life on Earth?

I picked this book up at the book fair at my school.  I hadn't read anything about it online or anywhere else, so the description above led me to believe it was a science fiction book.  And that is the hook, the thing that sets you up for the much sadder and more earthly truth of Campion's life.  

Owen's loneliness is apparent in the beginning of the book, and only gets more evident as the story progresses.  His father throws himself into his work after losing Owen's mother in a car accident, and Owen has no friends in the new town where they live.  The few interactions we see between Owen and his father are obviously strained, and it helps make his decisions-first to believe Campion's very far-fecthed story, and second to leave with her and her "parents" when they arrived in a spaceship to rescue her.

From the beginning of the book I felt that the backstory that Campion produced was not exactly believable.  But I was still thinking of it as a science fiction story at that point.  Once I realized the sad reality that Campion was running away from an abusive home, the story set-up made much more sense.  I can see how children reading the story would be drawn in thinking it was one thing, and be surprised at the "twist" at the end.  It would provide an excellent discussion of character motivations-both for Owen and for Campion.  The other characters in the story each have their own quirks and eccentricities, which can only add to the discussion and make it richer.  I would say that this book would be good for a book club, or for a literature circle format.  

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