Hardy Grant Egmont, 2013
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.
You know how happy Yoshi looks in Super Mario, like you can't help but be a little bit happy too because IT'S A HAPPY LITTLE DINOSAUR?
Just me, then.
But feel free to insert your happy moment up there instead, because that's exactly the feeling that Life in Outer Space generated for me the whole time I was reading it. That's not to say it's a relentlessly happy book - there's a lot of light and shade - but just that there is an infectious quality about it that makes me think Melissa Keil had just as much fun writing it, and creating these characters, as I did reading it.
Sam is a film-obsessed high school guy who has never been part of the cool crowd. Instead, he spends his time with his two best friends, Mike and Adrian, and their friend Allison. Sam, Mike and Adrian came to life immediately, and I felt like they were written with tons of affection from Keil - I think in the wrong hands Adrian could have come across as creepy or cartoon-losery, but instead he was totally understandable even in his more baffling or embarrassing moments. There's a point about 3/4 of the way through when Sam and Adrian have an argument, and Adrian's reaction nearly made me cry, something I can only attribute to the fact that by this point I really felt like I knew all the characters.
The construction of the friendship between the three guys reminded me a bit of the film The Girl Next Door: "You know what we are? We're a tripod. Knock out one of our legs and we all fall!" I can't stress enough how much I liked all three of them - they were quite different in some ways, but it made complete sense that they were all friends and there was a good blend of genuine affection for each other, and believable boy-stuff.
Their lives - especially Sam's - are turned upside down and inside out by the arrival of Camilla, daughter of Cool Rock Journalist who is immediately accepted by the cool kids but who forges a friendship with Sam and his friends too. She kind of bridges the gap between them, and in refusing to be pigeonholed (in a lot of ways) Sam and his friends start to figure out that maybe they can enjoy their final year of secondary school after all. There was a lot of personal discovery for Sam and Mike in particular, and I think it captured really well that transition period at the end of school when everyone starts thinking more seriously about their lives and what they're going to end up doing.
I think the point at which Sam wonders if his dad is actually Batman, a few pages in, was the point at which I knew this was going to be One of Those Books, and I was right. There is so much affection for the characters, and it was refreshing to see male protagonists who were both 'normal' and believable. There are lots of funny moments, and a lot of film references, which I enjoyed, and if you don't finish this doing a stupid goofy grin then I will eat a whole plate of mushrooms (and I really don't like mushrooms).
Overall rating: 10/10
Book source: Read as part of Mandee's ARC book tour.
This book counts towards my Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013.