Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Review: Life in Outer Space by Melissa Keil

Life in Outer Space by Melissa Keil
Reviewed by Maggie: February 5, 2013
Published by Hardie Grant Egmont on February 1, 2013
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One of my Top 5 Foreign Language Films (subgenre: drama) is Mostly Martha from Germany. Martha is a sought after, highly regarded chef with exacting standards. (I would call her the female Soup Nazi but Germans + Nazi reference... Let's not go there.) In the beginning of the movie, she talks about how the simplest dishes, like salmon in a light basil sauce, are the hardest because there's nothing to disguise or distract from the flavor. It's all about proper seasoning and precise cooking. These basic dishes are how to judge the quality of a chef. Likewise with books, I think the simple, slice of life stories are the hardest. Without big issues or fantastical situations or death, the story comes down to the characters.

Life in Outer Space is about Sam Kinnison and his group of friends as they navigate a year of high school. Sam is a movie obsessed, World of Warcraft playing geek with dreams of being a screenwriter. He's like Dawson Leery minus the giant head and ugly crying. His best friend, Mike, is a black belt in karate. Mike is also a disco dancing, Oscar Wilde reading, Streisand ticket holding friend of Dorothy, know what I'm saying? When Mike first came out to the group, which also includes Adrian and Allison, they did what any self-respecting nerd would do -- they googled. Based on search results, they ended up watching Xanadu, Lesbian Vampire Killers, and Dirty Dancing. Sam narrates,
"We watched Dirty Dancing. Mike fell asleep, but I had to admit I kind of liked it, which made me question my own sexuality, raising a whole heap of other questions I chose not to examine."
Their routine of avoiding jock/terrorist Justin Zigoni and his crew by hiding out in the IT office is compromised when Camilla Carter comes to town. Camilla is Australian by birth but has spent most of her life bouncing around the world with her famous music critic father. Camilla ends up in the IT office her first day because her laptop won't connect to the school's WiFi. Sam, the IT assistant, can't avoid her, especially when she notices his WoW screensaver and writes down her WoW name.

I want to hug this book. If you've read any of my reviews, you know I talk in movie. Sam, with his Top 5 lists, is a kindred spirit. He's also smart, funny, and totally clueless. He reminds me of two of my favorite YA boys: Ed from Graffiti Moon and Sam from Hold Me Closer, Necromancer. Camilla is who Zooey Deschanel and Olivia Munn pretend to be. Hell, she's who I want to be! I mean, anyone who can use Sweeney Todd and Dirty Dancing to taunt is my hero. Adrian steals every scene he's in.

This book is about the little victories in life. Nothing earth shattering, just the times when you say yes instead of no. Do you reply back? Do you risk the dining hall? Do you give in to John Cusack??

Melissa Keil writes with a deftness that shows why she won the Ampersand Project. She gets the right mix of heart and humor and uses little details, like the fact that Sam downloads a movie using torrents, to add to the authenticity of the story. Like I said before, I think these types of stories are the hardest to write. However, when done well, they just make you happy that you read them. Life in Outer Space is done well. I can't guarantee that you'll be blown away, but I can say that you'll be glad you said yes instead of no to this.

Favorite quote: "I will shelve this insanity and store away the memory of her in the hope that one day it'll be distant enough to be useful for a screenplay."

Rating: 4.5/5 stars.

This is my first review for the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2013.

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