Ketchvar III has a job to do, and it isn’t easy; he’s an alien from the faraway planet of Sandoval who has come to Planet Earth to evaluate its inhabitants for the Galactic Federation. This isn’t some purely anthropological expedition, either. The lives of Earth’s entire human population hang in the balance, as Ketchvar’s experience will determine whether they’re worth saving—or annihilating. The outlook isn’t good, since Earth’s dominant species don’t appear to be doing a very good job as caretakers of their planet

The inhabitants of Sandoval resemble another earth creature—specifically, a snail—and the Federation’s superior technology has enabled Ketchvar to take over the body of a randomly selected human to conduct his analysis. That random selection happens to be one Tom Filber, a 14-year-old boy from an astonishingly dysfunctional family, the butt of jokes and the designated target of every bully at his junior high school.

At least that’s how Stuck on Earth, David Klass’ new novel for young readers, starts out. There are a lot of silly interactions between the befuddled Ketchvar, his hormone-infused host and the people he comes in contact with. They already think Tom is weird (his nickname is “Alien“), but they aren’t prepared when Ketchvar takes things to a new level. But then, Klass slyly takes the reader to a new level, turning this sci-fi romp on its ear by suggesting that what’s happening, however silly, is realbut not for reasons you’d expect.

Klass deftly weaves a story of growing up, environmentalism, the girl next door, human nature and all-powerful alien beings in a strikingly original way. Stuck on Earth manages to be hilarious, thoughtful and poignant, and there are plot twists you won’t anticipate; it’s got an ending that will leave you wondering, to boot. Don’t miss this entertaining novel.

James Neal Webb works with an alien species called “college students” at a university library.

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