Cover Image: Earth to Charlie

Earth to Charlie

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I was very excited for this one as it's been compared to my favorite book (WE ARE THE ANTS), but I think that mostly hindered my reading experience because it definitely fell short for me in the end.
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This book felt incomplete. Some things felt like they were plopped into the story tenatively to see if they would stick while others were flitted in and out or a bit rushed into their conclusions.
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This book was cute but I wanted more from the ending. Also I was not all that thrilled with the fat shaming in this book.
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What a terrific read! I felt profound sympathy for the highly likable MC, Charlie. He's so unhappy with his life that he longs to be abducted by aliens, and reunited with his mother. His sadness and loneliness are beautifully depicted, and the supporting cast of characters is strong and interesting. I had no idea where the story was headed, but I was completely satisfied with the ending. Sweet and powerful, this book is well worth reading, and I feel that anyone can relate to Charlie. Fantastic debut novel!
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Special thanks to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC and the opportunity to read and review this book before its release date. This, however, does not reflect the opinions in my review. 

Okay, I really, REALLY wanted to like this book. From the synopsis it sounded like a dash of X-Files and some fun M/M representation thrown in there, too. I pictured a group of ragtag loners, a “found family” so to speak, who go out for a long camping excursion and inadvertently find some cryptic signs of alien life, but more importantly they find out how wonderful their friendship is and one couple even discover they have feelings for each other and blah blah blah so on – totally cute and up my alley. 

I guess I set my expectations up too high. There was talk of aliens, sure, and a dash of M/M romance but it was done in such a way that I was just wishing for the book to end already. Let me backtrack and explain. 

I’m a firm believer that characters make a story. You can have one bomb-ass storyline with the cleverest of twists, but that means nothing if your character is as bland as a rice cake. And that’s what we get with Charlie. I get that he’s a fourteen-year-old that’s trying to navigate through puberty and high school, that he’s trying to find himself and so on, but I felt ZERO connection with him because Charlie consisted of one emotion – and that was self-deprecation. I remember being fourteen and hating things about myself, my body, and my life. I really do. But I was never as self-deprecating and down on myself as this kid. He thinks he can do nothing right. He just accepts the bullying thrown his way, he believes he’s the lowest of the social outcasts. That he’s some sort of social pariah that if anyone gets near, they’ll suffer the consequences. Literally every paragraph had something to the extent of “Oh, God, I can never do anything right” and “Why are they talking to me? Don’t they realize I’m just a stupid loser?” And yes, I get it. Teens can be brooding and emotional but reading the same self-deprecating things for 280 pages gets freaking old. 

But maybe I’m being too hard on Charlie, yeah? Any kid would be down on themselves given the amount of crap that he’s been dealt. This dad is distant and an alcoholic, his grandmother that he loved has Alzheimer’s and doesn’t recognize him anymore, he’s the target for every school bully archetype everywhere, the girl he crushes on won’t give him the time of day and, to make things even worse (his grandmother dies and he discovers his mother abandoned him.) There’s hardly a single person in this novel that seems to act like they give a crap about the poor kid. 

That brings us to Seth and his mother, Susan. These two characters are really the only people that act like they have empathy for anyone other than themselves. Susan sort of takes Charlie under her wing and gives him the parental guidance he needs, as well as the love he never receives from his father. Seth, of course, is the love interest. He’s a photographer and gay and… that’s about it. That’s really all we get out of character development from him. So when a weird relationship “blossoms” between the two boys, it feels particularly forced and not at all authentic. More often than not, it seems like Seth and Charlie are arguing with each other. How is this romantic? 

Lastly, and this is kinda me nitpicking here but I feel people should be aware that it exists in the novel, there is A LOT of fat-shaming in this book. And it’s not even subtle. Charlie has a morbidly obese neighbor, Geoffrey, that’s lost his mobility, so he walks his dog for him. At first their interactions were friendly and innocuous enough, but before long Charlie starts to feel sorry and even disgusted by Geoffrey. He asks himself, and I’m nearly quoting from the book, “Why would someone let themselves get so fat? Wouldn’t even a little exercise like walking help to keep him from getting so big?” To make matters even worse, after Seth meets Geoffrey, he admits to Charlie that he’d like to take pictures of him and record his life. Like, /what/? Who the hell meets a fat person and thinks it’s socially acceptable to video or photograph their life for the source of their own entertainment? Fat people don’t exist for you to pity them, to judge them or to make a spectacle of their life. They’re people just like you and me and, as someone who struggles with a medical condition that makes it VERY hard to lose weight, reading about Charlie thinking that Geoffrey just “didn’t care enough” about himself to keep from being so fat hurt. It hurt a hell of a lot. Most morbidly obese people aren’t morbidly obese because they eat a crap ton of junk food and because they’re lazy. There’s underlying problems that are keeping them the size they are and life is freaking hard enough as a fat person without people blaming us for things outside of our control. Needless to say, this book needed to be combed over with a sensitivity reader and it certainly WAS NOT. 

So yeah. I struggled to finish this one and the only reason I didn’t DNF it was because I was given an eARC. I guess if you like bland characters with absolutely zero agency in the making of their own story, a ridiculously forced relationship, and blatant fat-phobia, this book is for you. But I don’t recommend it. The only reason I gave it two stars was because the bare-bones plot COULD’VE been entertaining if there had been a cast of characters that I actually cared about and because it was mercifully short at only 280 pages.
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While many of the interconnected plot lines felt unfinished leaving a somewhat unsatisfying ending, this is still a lovely debut by an author with a unique voice.  Charlie is a fantastic character, one who readers will easily fall a little in love with.
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I’m just going to say it, I kinda hated Charlie. He was self absorbed and only thought about himself. I don’t know why poor Seth tried so hard with him. I did feel bad for him though, dealing with his broken family and visiting his grandma in a nursing home… He has too much on his shoulders for a fourteen year old. I was also really interested in the extraterrestrial bits of the story. But in the end, I wanted more from the romance. I know this book wasn’t really about that, but I’d much rather have the story from Seth’s point of view. In the end I did give this book 4 stars, because once I started reading it, I didn’t want to put it down. Charlie was really the only fault I had with it.
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I feel like the synopsis made this book more clearly formed than it actually was. It ended up as part Aristotle and Dante, part X-Files, pretty significantly full of question marks. I think Charlie was a fine main character - maybe a little opaque, I didn't really feel like I was getting into the heart of a person, though he's certainly sympathetic and kind - but his story felt so open ended. So many things happen that then either get shallowly resolved or remain unresolved. Charlie's relationship with Seth felt like the friendship version of insta-love, but there were all these hints that it was actually "friendship....??? 👀👀👀👀" (see, there are the question marks) and nothing really happened there. There's this thing where the Spanish teacher gets fired, and it's basically for no reason. Geoffrey, Charlie's very overweight neighbor, has the end of his arc as "well, he exercises now, so it's cool." The whole bullying thing felt like there was no closure.

(Speaking of Geoffrey, I was pretty uncomfortable with the inclusion of him as a character, considering our cultural voyeurism regarding fat people and the very specific and often awkward details about his physical form. In the end, I didn't feel that his character was well-rounded enough or the fact of his weight was significant/unique enough to justify making that a part of his character. And not that fat people should be required to impart lessons in order to be included in the world, real or fiction, but Charlie doesn't seem to learn anything from the little parable about Geoffrey's life. What would have been changed in the plot if Charlie had had a neighbor who was elderly, or agoraphobic, or homebound for another reason without the weight aspect?)

I don't know, I think it was mostly fine, but I didn't find it particularly emotionally connected.
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Whew. This book was an emotional ride. I really enjoyed the writing choices and how the narration was so natural and conversational. It really made me feel connected to Charlie from the start. He is such an earnest and pure character that you can’t really help but feel for him and his plight. 

I think there was a great deal of excellent work done on the supporting characters and I really enjoyed getting to know all the unique people in Charlie’s life.

I think the plot and the gravity of the story really hinges on how Olson depicted Charlie’s sadness and loneliness. This is where the book really found its wings for me and made it so important to me. It’s a very delicate thing to write about and Olson did so very beautifully. 

This is a wonderful debut and I look forward to more of Olson’s work.
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Thank you, NetGalley for providing me with a digital ARC of this title.

While I wasn’t fully swept away by his debut YA novel, there’s a certain contentment that I felt as I read it.

Firstly, Justin Olson is a great writer, and I imagine he will have a fruitful career with many more novels to come. His writing is simple, easy to read, yet poetic and completely engaging. So many YA novelists tend to over-write and ruin the story with such tactics, but not Justin. He’s a damn good writer.

While there isn’t much to the storyline itself, I found the simplistic nature of a teenage boy figuring out exactly who he is through family and friendships to be quite refreshing. The characters drove this story, which some authors forget. I found myself drawn to Charlie and invested in him early on. I also enjoyed Seth, Geoffrey, the grandmother, and Susan and how Charlie related to each of these characters. While I wasn’t a fan of his dad, the relationship between father and son, was an accurate representation of how past demons can really put a strain on current life. 

Themes of friendship, love, and mental health make this a great book for teenagers to read as I’m certain they can find rather relatable threads woven in between the book and their lives.
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Disclaimer: I received an eARC through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

When Charlie Dickens was younger, his mother disappeared. Charlie remains convinced that aliens took her because that’s what she said would happen. She told Charlie that one day the aliens would come for him as well, and Charlie has constantly looked for UFOs since then.

Now that Charlie is a freshmen in high school, he still believes, and on one of the last days of school, the new kid Seth catches Charlie looking up UFO sightings in Montana. Rather than make fun of Charlie, Seth is determined to befriend him.

Because of Charlie’s past, he is bullied and tries to stay out of sight. He’s not sure what to think of Seth but decides to accept his offer for lunch. The two quickly strike up a quiet friendship.

Charlie also deals with his life by visiting his grandma who is in a nursing home and by visiting his neighbor Geoffrey and walking Geoffrey’s three-legged dog Tickles.

As the book progresses, Charlie wishes more and more desperately that aliens would come for him and return him to his mother, but his changing circumstances may change that too.

This was one of the first YA books I’ve read in a long time that actually centers a freshmen protagonist which was extremely refreshing. It also takes place in a small town (3000 people) where everyone knows everyone’s business. This was  also refreshing.

The shorter chapters were very refreshing as well. It worked very well with Charlie’s character as the story is told through Charlie’s perspective.

Ultimately, Earth to Charlie is a sensitive portrayal of abandonment and being found in the most unusual ways.

Earth to Charlie comes out April 16.
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One of the underlying themes in this story was learning to have compassion for yourself and others, as well as the struggles that each person faces. It was reminiscent of the saying, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is facing a hard battle.”

I think that is such a powerful thought and very needed in queer YA books. Charlie was such a sweet protagonist, and I loved reading about his friendships with his somewhat reclusive neighbor Geoffrey and his classmate Seth. It was one of those books that makes you want to look for the good in people you meet every day and try to get to know them better.

The story itself was beautifully written and had a way of addressing deep issues in a soft, poetic way. It’s implied, for example, that Charlie’s mom suffered from mental illness throughout her life. These allusions are done in a respectful way that doesn’t feel weighted with stigma or overly heavy themes. It’s thoughtful, but also full of hope and authenticity in a way that makes Earth to Charlie feel really genuine.

Earth to Charlie isn’t a queer romance but more of a friendship between two boys who are figuring out a lot about themselves and the world around them. It does, however, feature LGBT themes and main characters.

In some ways, I think stories like that are just as important as the love stories. We need more books that show queer teens that healthy friendships are just as valid as romantic relationships. And ones that have close, intimate friendships between guys that don’t necessarily lead to romance. There are many different kinds of love, and sometimes platonic love is undervalued in LGBT YA fiction.

This is one of those books where every character feels like they have a rich backstory and are deserving of love. It’s a wholesome, sweet and sometimes sad story. Earth to Charlie is a perfect story for those looking for a coming-of-age YA about finding friends who make you feel less lonely in this wonderful, strange world.
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Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC of this sweet and impactful book. All my life, I grew up believing in the impossible. My mom raised me on The X-Files, Harry Potter, and so many other fantastical worlds that were too far away to touch but incredibly near and dear to her heart. I felt a huge connection to Charlie in that way, who thinks he is looking for his mom in the stars but is really finding his way with the sky as his map. The way he wakes up every day and names the sky he’s greeting with is so beautiful, and really makes you stop to think when the last time you took the sky in with such reverence. I think this is a book of not only finding yourself, but slowing down enough to feel that connection with nature, other human beings, and being alive. We move so fast and get caught up in the routine of life that we forget to chase our UFOs. We forget to spend a little extra time with our family. We forget that we’re not alone; that the pain in our chest might be a mirror to someone else’s. I loved watching Charlie work through these things, and that the ending was really a beginning as Charlie let go of his past to walk into a new day; a new life. If you’re feeling stuck or life has just gotten you down, this book will pull you out and remind you of the most important thing. You’re alive.
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