Summary: Mal is a compassionate teen caring for his mother since his father left them both and started a new life in a new place. But he harbours a secret – when he was a kid, he was abducted by aliens and experimented upon. Mal stumbles into a support group for abduction survivors and meets Hooper, who eventually reveals that he is an alien himself. Looking for a way to escape his miserable, lonely life on Earth, Mal tries to convince Hooper to take him along on his journey home, only to be turned down. In the process of getting Hooper to his spaceship, Mal just might realise that there are things worth staying on Earth for, while questioning whether Hooper really is who he says he is.
Number of Pages: 150
Age Range: 14-16
Review: In a 150 page book, I have fifteen page flags. That’s a page flag noting a passage or quote that I especially liked for every ten pages of text. Quite simply, I love this book.
First Day On Earth was the first book I’d ever read by Cecil Castellucci when I read it back in 2012 and I just fell in love with her writing. Darwyn is my favourite character because he’s so loveable and vulnerable. He’s doing his best just to fit in at school, dealing with a nickname that inflicts psychological pain each time it is used, and trying to find a way to say good-bye to his mother after her unexpected death when he was a child. But in spite of all of that, he is just a good person.
Mal is the same way, but his story breaks my heart. I love the way Castellucci ties up the alien storyline with Mal’s father leaving, because Mal actually feels abandoned by both. Even after reading First Day On Earth for a second time, I still don’t know whether to see the alien abduction as real, or as a metaphor Mal created in his own mind to cope with the situation his father left him in.
If you haven’t read it before, you are missing out. First Day On Earth is a brief but thoughtful read with well-developed characters and a wonderful message. I’d also recommend it to reluctant teen readers as Castellucci’s writing is sparse and concise, only telling her reader what they need to know.
You can view this book as being one young man’s encounter with aliens, or you can see it as one young man struggling with mental illness in himself and in his family. Castellucci herself calls it a puzzle book. Either way, it is the story of Mal, a teen who feels like an outsider until he finds community among other teens who feel the same way. And that story is universal.
“‘We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.'” – Quote from Oscar Wilde from First Day On Earth by Cecil Castellucci
“You think you’re something. You think that your dumb teen problems are so big and important. You think that who’s popular in school and who wears and says the right thing is important.
It’s not.” – Mal from First Day On Earth by Cecil Castellucci, page 2
“‘People, they leave the terrible behind. They leave the people who don’t understand. They leave because they’ve burned out. They leave for a better life. They leave the way things are, for the way things could be. They start over. They go across the ocean. They discover new lands. They settle the West. You can call them whatever you want – explorers, conquerors, settlers, pioneers.'” – Mr. Cates talking about Human Migration from First Day On Earth by Cecil Castellucci, page 17
“I think some people go because they have to get away.
I think that they were lucky back then. To have somewhere that far away to go. Somewhere totally different. Somewhere totally unknown. Somewhere they could disappear. Somewhere with breathable air. A place that wasn’t even mapped yet – the edge of the world. I’d have signed up for that so fast I wouldn’t have even packed a bag.” – Mal talking about Human Migration from First Day On Earth by Cecil Castellucci, page 17
“I do like they do. I go back to reading.
Always solace in a book.” – Mal from First Day On Earth by Cecil Castellucci, page 25
“I’m not afraid of people who other people think are crazy. My mother is crazy and I’m not afraid of her. She just sees the world differently than other people. For her it’s a suspicious place, full of darkness and disappointment. Like the very light of the world doesn’t exist anymore. But Hooper is full of excitement. He’s crazy in a different way.” – Mal from First Day On Earth by Cecil Castellucci, page 74
“When my mom smiles, when the clouds break up enough to let some of her sunlight come through, it’s like old times.
Tonight, she gets out the Scrabble board.
Today was a good day.” – Mal from First Day On Earth by Cecil Castellucci, page 76
“Why is the hardest question in the world to answer.” – Mal from First Day On Earth by Cecil Castellucci, page 79
“There is a thread that goes from me to her. It’s a lifeline. Only it’s not keeping me alive.
Maybe if I got far enough away to snap it, she’d take the trash out on her own. Remember to eat more than just one meal. Wash her face. Take her pills. Start going to talk to someone.
Maybe, if I was so far away she could never find me again, then she’d hit rock bottom and start to climb out of this mess.” – Mal from First Day On Earth by Cecil Castellucci, page 80
“Darwyn continues. ‘I keep thinking that anyone walking around could have a part of her. And if I just found one person that had a piece of her in them, I could go right up to them, and I could say good-bye.'” – Darwyn from First Day On Earth by Cecil Castellucci, page 118
“No one has ever said I’m sorry to me. So maybe I don’t know how to say it, even if I feel it. Instead, I look up at her and try to tell her with my eyes. I hope she understands how much I mean it.” – Mal from First Day On Earth by Cecil Castellucci, page 128
“‘Actions,’ Hooper says. ‘Actions are the true words of humans. Words can be said or written and they can seem so beautiful. Seem so true. But I have noticed that a human speaks much louder with his or her actions and not with their words at all.'” – Hooper from First Day On Earth by Cecil Castellucci, page 137
“And I think I’d like to kiss her. And I think that Hooper might not be an alien. And it doesn’t matter. It’s not scary that he is or that he isn’t. Because everyone here is an alien.” – Mal from First Day On Earth by Cecil Castellucci, page 141
“As he leaves, I see him for what he really is – a man with a kind heart who cannot bear this world, just like me. He’s probably a little bit mentally disturbed – just like me.
I watch him walk until the darkness swallows him up.” – Mal from First Day On Earth by Cecil Castellucci, page 147
“I consider everything that I would leave behind. I can see it. It hangs there in front of me like a blue jewel.
It strikes me that a heart can be blue and still live. A heart can be blue and, with enough time, can warm again.
I am hit by the enormity of it all.
I feel it.” – Mal from First Day On Earth by Cecil Castellucci, page 150