Saturday, December 30, 2017

Honorable Mention: Post #4

For Teen Read Month, Burbank Public Library sponsored a writing contest, called "Stranger In A Strange Land." Here is the final story from one of our four writers who received an honorable mention:

by Brooke Ferrell, grade 8

The eighth day, of the tenth month, of the year of Sargog - On Zarah

Before noon meal:

They’ve ordered me to keep a journal, to practice for writing reports. Personally, I think it’s a waste of time, but I kept my mouth shut. Surely the Dalent can’t expect me to report to such stupid commanders for much longer. But I suppose I’d better keep my commanding officers happy, at least until I get promoted, so I’ll keep the journal.

Describing my appearance would be pointless, because I’m a shapeshifter. I shift depending on my mood, and I love to unnerve other Zarath by subtly shifting eye color or hair color while I’m talking to someone. My favorite form is that of a eighty juanes girl, with shimmering green hair and matching green eyes.

I’m smart, I passed my competency test 20 juanes early. I’m also incredibly powerful. I’m one of two shifters on this planet, and one of three known shifters in the system.

I’m also the most likely candidate for the next Dalent, after the present one fades. I have no attachments, which makes me stronger, and have good family connections, which makes me an ideal candidate.

After noon meal:

This afternoon I had a meeting with the Dalent, but she was nothing like the rumors. She was neither sweet nor fragile. She looked innocent at first, but I didn’t fall for that and I’m glad I didn’t.

We talked for maybe five minutes before she turned to the guard on her right. “I reject.”

I was furious! How dare she use the one veto she has for Dalent candidates on me? I’ve been working toward this for juanes! I even joined the military so I would qualify for the position. I snapped, slapping her across the face. She didn’t react, just put her hand on her cheek where I’d connected.

“You’re a cruel senile woman who takes some type of pleasure in ruining lives!” I yelled. “There is no one else on Zarah who has as many connections and advantages than I do! Will your last act as Dalent be to ruin our planet?”

She didn’t even flinch under my barrage of words, just gestured for her guards to take me away like some common criminal. “You are no Zarath.” She told me. I am just as Zarath as she is, if not more! I left the building spitting and cursing.

I’m getting ready for bed now, and I think writing it down has made me realize my error. I lost my temper with the Dalent, which only confirmed her idea that I’m unsuitable for the Dalency. Tomorrow I’ll lie through my teeth and apologize. I’ll blame it on lack of sleep or something.

Lack of sleep may not be such an outrageous excuse… I’m more tired than I have any right to be. Did they add something to my-

The ninth day, of the tenth month, of the year of Sargog - On… Well, I’m not exactly sure.

Before noon meal:

Today was… interesting. Not in a good way.

I woke up and found that my sleep pod had been ejected from Zarah! My first thought was that there’d been an emergency and I’d slept through the sirens blaring. I manually opened my pod to discover there was no one around for miles. The Dalent must have had something put in my drink and then ejected me while I slept! At first I was mad, but when I could see straight I realized I had more pressing matters than getting my revenge on the Dalent.

I picked a direction and walked for a long time before I finally saw a building in the distance. I was starving, but I knew better than to just go up to some strange alien’s house. For all I knew, I was on a planet that hated the Zarath. I hid in the trees while a girl, about my age, in a form I’ve never seen before, walked out of the building and froze, meeting my eyes. I quickly shifted to match her, but kept my favorite bright green hair and green eyes. Once I was sure I’d fit in, I stepped out of the bushes.

“I’ve never seen you before.” She said in Milkayan, with a thick accent I couldn’t place.

“I’m… just passing through.” I offered in the same language. She spoke slowly, like she was a little stupid. She watched me a minute, probably processing what I’d said. I waited, but my patience was wearing thin when she said, “Where’re your folks?”

“I accompany myself.” I lifted my chin a bit. “Is that a problem?”

Instead of taking offence, the girl grinned. “Feisty. I like it. Do you have a place to stay while you’re in town?”


She studied me for another minute until I almost snapped at her, but I reminded myself what happened last time I lost my temper. Then she turned and walked away. “Come on.”

I stood stock still. Were all the aliens on this planet so trusting of strangers? Maybe these aliens were more unintelligent than I thought.

She glanced back. “By the way, I’m Chloe. Chloe Smith.”

“Sorralyn.” I followed her at a cautious distance. If she thought she was going to form an ‘attachment’ with me, she was wrong. Zarath didn’t make attachments. They made political alliances. And this girl had nothing to offer me.

After noon meal:

Except food. This girl had nothing to offer me except food, which is something I hadn’t realized I’d needed so much. Food and shelter, in exchange for nothing. It’s a good deal for me, but I worry about them if they make deals like this often.

Her parents were more suspicious of me. They still let me stay, though. I think that says a lot about the average intelligence level on this planet. And then I met her brother, Nathan.

Her brother.

He’s older than her, and much smarter than the rest. He does speak slowly, like the rest of them, but he argued with his parents about just letting a random… he called me a ‘person’… stay in their house. He watches me like a hawk when I’m in the house, but never comes outside. In fact, he rarely stands up. If he were more active and could talk quicker, he’d fit in fairly well on Zarah.

I did learn that five of our jaunes is equivalent to one year here.

The tenth day, of the tenth month, of the year of Sargog - On Earth

Before noon meal:

With some well-placed questions, I found out I was on a planet called Earth, in a little town called Collinsville. Their medical knowledge is basic at best. Stimulating the regeneration of a form is unheard of. Not that I’ll ever do it on Earthlings. They don’t know my planet exists. I’m not going to give it away.

I think I’m homesick. I miss the juane party we’d be having right now on Zarah. I miss sleeping in my pod. I even miss training, as excruciating as that was. I want to go home.

Why do I care so much if I hold no attachments?

Asking that question makes my head spin.

After noon meal:

Nathan slept in past noon. No one I knew on Zarah did that, unless they were about to fade. His parents were worried, but they were trying not to show it. Chloe was the only one who was bright and happy. After we ate, I found a quiet place in the woods to sit and think. As far as I know, I’m not getting back to Zarah. This place is my new life. A place where I have to hide. Forever.

The first day, of the first month, of the year of Teleth - On Earth

Before noon meal:

Nathan doesn’t like me at all. I heard him arguing with his parents last night. He thinks that I’m dangerous, or a runaway. He thinks letting me stay here will put them all in danger.

That hurts more than it should. He’s not even Zarath. He’s an Earthling. I have no emotional attachment to him or his family, because I’m not weak. But for some reason, I still care about what he’s concluded about me. Why?

All this spinning is making my head hurt.

After noon meal:

Today I helped Chloe with her chores. I don’t know why I did it, I just felt like… It was the right thing to do. Not that I’ve ever cared about what’s right before… Maybe it’s an investment. She’ll feel obliged to help me when I need it.

Why did I help her?

My mind is spinning worse than ever.

The eighth day, of the first month, of the year of Teleth - On Earth
Before noon meal:

After fighting with him for days, Nathan and I made a peace. I won’t speak to him, he won’t convince his family to kick me out. They all treat him like he’s so fragile, like he’s about to break. Why don’t they treat Chloe like that too? Why does he sleep so late? Why does he hate me so much?

I have millions of questions, but no answers.

After noon meal:

Mr. and Mrs. Smith have been asking questions that I can’t answer. Staying here is no longer safe. I’m leaving. Tonight.

The…actually, I’m not sure. - On Earth

Before noon meal:

I woke up in a white room. The first thing that registered was a steady beeping. There was a band around my arm. I opened my eyes and realized I was in an unfamiliar room, surrounded by machines and signs written in Milkayan. A throbbing pain in my head was the next thing I noticed, but that I could do something about.

Wincing, I eased my way into my molecular structure and released some of the tension in my brain. I forced some of the cells to regenerate. A few moments later, I left my structure.

With the headache gone, I had the presence of mind to make sure I was in an Earthling form. Thankfully, I hadn’t slipped out of that.

Next, I examined the band around my arm. It held a needle in, and the needle was attached to a bag. I assume it was the Earthlings’ way of making sure I got nutrients, although it probably was what kept my body from realizing I needed to speed up my healing process. Slowly, I eased the needle out of my arm. The machine started screaming in protest.

Two people in blue scrubs entered the room almost instantly. “Oh!” One of them said, startled.

“You can’t take that out.” The other one told me.

I shook my head. “It’s not helping.” Without waiting for a response, I pulled it the rest of the way out and immediately felt my body flood itself with regeneration. I wasn’t nearly old enough for my regeneration to fail.

I sat up. “Where am I?”

“Collinsville.” The first one told me, having recovered from their shock of seeing me awake.

I nodded. “Why am I here?”

Both of them hesitated. “What do you remember?” The second one said.

I searched my memory. Needing to leave. Running away, towards where my pod was. Crossing the street in the dark. Headlights. Impact. “I got hit by a car.”


Now I probed what sensations I remembered while I was unconscious. A voice. Curses. A hand. Someone cradling me. “Someone found me.” Not someone. That voice… “Nathan found me.” I corrected myself.

They just nodded. “The Smith family’s been visiting you pretty often. Actually, they should be here any minute.”

No. “I have to go.” I stood.

“You shouldn’t do that!”

“Sorralyn!” I was too late. It was Chloe. She pushed through the door and practically tackled me. She’d grown. I hadn’t. I hadn’t been awake to will myself to.


She pulled back, a frown creasing her face. “You ran. You didn’t even say goodbye. You just left. Nathan said you were trouble. I didn’t believe him, but you just left.”

I flicked my gaze to where the Smith parents were standing by the door, trying to give us space. “I wonder why I would do that.”

“Chloe, Mom, Dad.” Nathan spoke up from where he stood in the corner. “I want to talk to Sorralyn.”

Without another word, the three of them filed out of the room, followed closely by the two people in scrubs.

He slid the door shut behind them before turning to face me. He was thinner than he was when I last saw him. He had deep purple circles under his eyes, and his hair had been shaved close to his head.

“Nathan, what-”

“What are you?” He asked. “You’re not human.”

I froze. “Of course I’m human.” I lied. “Why would you think I’m not?”

“Don’t lie to me.” His voice was quiet. Suddenly I realized something. He was really sick. He was fading.

I put a hand on his shoulder, accepting the pain that came with that minor contact. I almost didn’t need to search his structure, but I did and he jerked away. “Don’t do that.” I’d seen enough. There was an uncomfortable lump that shouldn’t be there. I reached out to try and burn it away, but he stepped back. “Tell me what you are.” His voice was rising. I couldn’t risk someone hearing.

“I’m Zarath.”

If he felt shock, he didn’t show it. “Where are you from?”

“A planet called Zarah.”

“How do you look like my sister?”

Slowly, I reached out my hand and let it shift back to its original form. “I’m a shifter. I’m one of three known.” He nodded, taking it all in. It was my turn to ask a question. “How did you know about me?”

“You… shifted… when I touched you.” Nathan said, slowly raising his gaze to meet mine. “It was like touching me caused you pain.”

I just had one question. “Do you know you’re sick?”

He sank down on the bed. “Is it that obvious?”

“I’m Zarath. All Zarath can stimulate natural regeneration. And they can sense when it’s needed. Of course, there are some minor side effects…” I gave him a wry smile. “Like painful contact with sick people.”

“I’ve known for a year.”

I swallowed. This was an intimate question, but I wouldn’t forgive myself if I didn’t ask it. “May I… try to heal it?”

His head shot up. “You can cure it?”

“I can try.”

“Go ahead.”

I put my hand on his shoulder, sending my consciousness to the lump. I forced some of the cells to yield, and dissolved them. I started on the next layer, but it was much stronger. I called for his immune system to help me, but very few cells answered my call. “No.” I whispered. He saved my life. I had to return the favor. I stimulated his natural regeneration, but the lump started to grow. I tried to pull my energy back, but it was like trying to grab a drop of oil from water. I was vaguely aware of Nathan crying out, but I couldn’t focus on that right now. I can’t have killed my friend. Then I got a handle on the energy and jerked it back, hard. The lump began to shrink again. His life force was flickering dangerously, mirroring my own, but I couldn’t give the energy back until the lump was gone. I clung to it, refusing to let myself give it back. After what felt like ages, the lump disappeared and I thrust my energy back into his system. I pulled back to myself, gasping for air.

Nathan was staring at me, his eyes wide. “What did you do?”

“Almost killed you by accident.” I rasped out. “Sorry.”

“Are you okay?”

I nodded, not trusting myself to speak, but he expected an answer. “I’m just a little rusty. I haven’t used that power since I got here.”

“Why-” He froze. The room was silent. Why was the room silent? I was about to panic when the Dalent appeared in front of me. She studied me a long moment, reminding me of Chloe.

“You’ve changed.” She said.


“You were selfish before. You know you killed yourself and him, don’t you?”

I nodded. I’d felt myself fading from too much energy coursing through my body. “But why are you here?”

A slight smile graced her aging face. “I’m a time jumper. You think I didn’t know were you were these past three juanes?”

“When I was on Zarah, I didn’t care what your power was, as long as I was the next Dalent.” I told her, feeling my face burn.

“And now you don’t care if you forfeit the Dalency as long as you can stay here and save more lives.”

I hadn’t realized it until she said it, but it was true. I wanted to help the Earthlings who’d taught me how to feel. “Yes.”

She stared at me, and I met her eyes frankly. I had nothing to hide anymore. Then she smiled, a bittersweet smile. “If I’d met this girl three juanes ago, Zarah would be a lucky planet indeed. But you want to stay.”

I took a breath. Letting go wasn’t easy, and staying would be hard. I knew that if I forfeited the Dalency, I would be banned from Zarah. I had no guarantee I would be allowed to stay in Collinsville, or that no one would discover my secret. But I still said the two words that threw everything I’d worked for away, and turned to a new page. “I do.”

“Goodbye, Sorralyn.” The Dalent said.

“Goodbye, Grandmother.”

# # #

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Honorable Mentions, Post #3

For Teen Read Month, Burbank Public Library sponsored a writing contest, called "Stranger In A Strange Land." Here is a story from one of our four writers who received an honorable mention:

New World, New Rules
by Stephan Beglaryan, grade 10

It was a gloomy day that my six-year trip to the outer planet called Earth came to an end.

When my spaceship came close to the planet, there was a strange feeling inside of me as a new substance that seemed worthless to me started to fill the cabin of my ship. I later found out that it was oxygen and that humans, the people on Earth, need to be able to survive. I landed in a place called Russia and I later became aware that they had mistaken my landing for an asteroid strike, which further helped me stay in disguise. After touchdown, I destroyed my ship as it was no longer needed and shifted into human form. I went on day by day until I came by the first of them. I was scared and slightly angry as they did not even greet me but I was here not to hurt them but to study them to evaluate if they are safe to communicate with. For the next few days I walked which was quiet unusual for us brogis (people of planet Borgeria) as we tend to fly there and I studied their behavior. I found out that I needed to have some identifications to travel like a human being so I took my life to the forests and crossed into the United States by using a boat that I made.

I traveled for days and days, getting rides from the locals or walking, and finally reached a place called New York. It looked just like my old planet and I stated to change my opinion about the people of Earth. I visited many places, interacted with humans, and tried their food, which I found to be very delicious, but this was where my happy life on earth would come to an end.

One day, when I was sitting in a restaurant, two men approached me and asked me to step outside. Having no experience with humans before, I followed them. While one of them stayed back in the restaurant, the other human came outside, pinned me to the wall, and grabbed my transmitter, since he could not find money on me. This meant that I had lost my connection with my planet and could not return home unless a rescue mission was sent out for me.

I began to search for a human job, which I found very easily, and I earned decent money. Since humans wasted their time on a hobby called sleeping, they could not work as much as me, and I was soon considered to be a high-class member of society. My life was finally becoming normal, and I was starting to feel safe in my new environment.

This all changed on Friday, October 13th, when I got a knock on my door. It was a person dressed in a black suit, who asked me to follow him. I did so in fear of my life, and we were soon on the way to a secret agency deep in the heart of Nevada called Area 51. I did not know what to do, as there were humans surrounding me with guns at all times, and I was told that I could not leave. During my time there, I started hypothesizing about what this could be. I had many thoughts but one of them struck me: People of the Earth are not less intelligent than we are and I was as alien for them as they were for me. I started being taken into different rooms, and samples of my blood and skin were taken. They tested me in very advanced medical ways and did surgeries to test my cells.

Finally, they promised to release me if I let them put a tracing chip in my body, and without any second thoughts, I agreed. I was sent to New York, where my old home was, and I was allowed to have a job and to interact with people; but there was one catch: Every year on October 31, I had to change into my old, alien form and visit the houses of regular citizens and do the dirty work of the government. I was forced to collect candy from every house, and turn the candy in to the government office to reassure my freedom. I was doomed to a life of collecting candy and turning it in to the government, and I do not know why, but every time I did so they would laugh hysterically and congratulate me.

# # #

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Book club substitution

We were unable to get sufficient copies of Bellweather Rhapsody, by Kate Racculia, at a price we could afford, for 10-12 Book Club's February book; so we will be switching to our second choice, The Vault of Dreamers, by Caragh M. O'Brien.

Although I am sure we will enjoy O'Brien's book (I enjoyed her previous dystopian series), I'm sorry that we don't get to read Racculia's, after about a year of recommending it to you! Pick up a library copy and read it anyway--you won't regret it.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

What we're reading: A graphic novel

That's a new headline for me: Despite having been a teen librarian for nine years now, I have only read a few graphic novels during that time. I have ordered a lot of them (with direction from Anarda, who is much more familiar with the format), and vetted a lot of them, but I never thought it was a format that I'd enjoy reading. I don't know why not--I like to read, and I'm an artist, so you'd think it would be a natural. But for some reason, the square-to-square narrative is a hard one for me.

Although I won't say that I'm an instant convert, I did become a little more enthusiastic about them after my latest reading "assignment." Our librarian, Jeff, who ran the Genre-X book club, has taken a job as a teen librarian in a location close to his home (he's been commuting 35 miles one way for a few years now, which doesn't sound like so much until you realize that it's across the worst traffic Los Angeles has to offer), and I am the temporary fill-in host for that book club for the next couple of months. This month's book was a graphic novel called Seconds, by Bryan Lee O'Malley, who is more famous for his Scott Pilgrim series, so I had to read one whether I wanted to or not!

The story, funnily enough, reminded me of the old Grimm's fairy tale, "The Fisherman and his Wife," in which the fisherman catches a flounder who claims to be, not a fish, but an enchanted prince, and entreats the fisherman to throw him back, which he does. But when the fisherman's wife gets wind of this transaction, she wants to know why the fisherman didn't ask for a reward for his mercy, and sends him back to get one. The couple lives in a decrepit hovel, and the wife tells her husband to ask for a neat little cottage. The flounder grants this wish, but the wife gets greedy, and proceeds to demand more and more luxuries and riches (a mansion, a palace), followed by titles (she wants first to be King, then Emperor, and then Pope!). Finally, when the wife asks to be God, the flounder has had enough and restores her, and her poor henpecked husband, to their original hovel. There's a moral here...

In Seconds, Katie is a young and successful chef in a restaurant she and her financial partners have built up from nothing into the most successful eatery in the city. But Katie wants her own restaurant, and so she finds financing, seeks out the perfect location, and starts working singlemindedly towards that. But things start to go wrong: The renovation bogs down, her ex shows up at her restaurant and throws her into confusion, her waitress is badly burned, and just like that, everything is a mess. Then, miraculously, a mysterious girl appears in her room in the middle of the night, with instructions to fix Katie's problems: Write your mistake, eat a mushroom, go to sleep, wake up to discover everything is fixed!

Just like that, Katie gets a do-over. But is Katie happy with this? No. And knowing that there are more mushrooms to which she can gain access makes her determined not just to make life good or better, but perfect. The problem is, Katie is rash, impulsive, and (honestly) not a very nice person, so she ignores the rules, alienates her benefactor, and makes a big hash out of everything.

Experiencing this graphic novel was a delight. The art was beautiful--alternately absolutely simple and incredibly detailed--and I loved the contrasting color palettes of bright/warm (red/orange) and dark/cool (blue/green/black) the artist used. I enjoyed the occasional byplay between the protagonist and the author (he narrates something and she comments on his narration), and the extreme variety of styles he uses to depict his characters--making Katie almost a manga character with her big eyes and spiky hair, while drawing the other characters more realistically--was intriguing.

While I didn't care much for Katie as a person, her story was entertaining. One of the people in the Genre-X Book Club expressed disappointment that this had a happy ending, because she thought it would have been more interesting if it hadn't, and I have to say I agree; but over all it was a satisfying read.

This format did let me know, however, that it's time for a new eyeglasses prescription: In a few instances of little teeny lettering, I had to haul out my magnifying glass! Hopefully that won't be a challenge for teen readers.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

The director's best!

We don't always do a "best teen books of the year" feature on this blog, simply because we tend to review them throughout the year as we read them, and then tell you, "go read it" too! But on our main library blog, we get our library staff to post reviews of their favorites of the year, whether it's a fiction or nonfiction book, audio book, or movie/TV show, and to our surprise, this year our library director, Elizabeth Goldman, chose a YA book as her favorite. When the library director picks a YA book as best of the year, it seems like information that should be passed along, so here's her review:

A book may well be one of the best of the year when you feel compelled to recommend it to everyone you meet. By that standard, my runaway favorite for 2017 was The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas. The teen novel – also a debut – is at once a classic coming-of-age story and a modern and timely take on the intractability of divisions in our society.

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter lives in a poor, African-American neighborhood in an unnamed city, and attends a private school in a nearby wealthy, white neighborhood. While already coping with relationship complications, social pressures, and everyday stresses, she witnesses the killing of one of her childhood friends during a traffic stop. Khalil, the victim, is unarmed, and the book follows the public fallout of the incident and trial of the police officer, along with Starr’s realization that she can find her own unique and unified voice despite trying to live in two worlds.

Even with grim subject matter that too closely resembles the current state of America, this book will leave you hopeful. Each voice raised is a step toward a society that gives love and empathy where there once was only hate.

Editor's note: You can find this book in the teen section at the Central and Buena Vista libraries, and you can also check it out as an e-book.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Honorable Mentions: Post #2

For Teen Read Month, Burbank Public Library sponsored a writing contest, called "Stranger In A Strange Land." Here is a story from one of our four writers who received an honorable mention:

by Elysia Lopez, grade 8

October 19 – Week Eight

The humans have demonstrated they are an intelligent species. My verdict holds that our people will be able to blend in safely in this world.

I close the book, using my pen to bookmark it, and place it near my collection of flower bouquets, resting my head against the trunk of the tree. The night is getting old. Silvery beams of moonlight shoot through the dense leaves, revealing the net of thick branches I’m resting on—my makeshift home. For now, at least. As long as I stay on this planet.

I guess I fell asleep somehow, because I wake up the next morning when the sun is already fixed in the sky above the trees

I take a quick peek in my compact. I’d shifted back to my purple, three-eyed self during my sleep. I quickly morph into the human form I’d been adapting for the past few weeks: Brown hair and gray eyes. And no purple skin. Satisfied that people won’t be running away at the sight of me, I hop off the branch and land softly on the grass, making my way toward Willowdale.

The brick houses and shops line the road. Aside from a few cyclists and pedestrians, the town is peacefully quiet. I could never imagine this town changing. Everyone here was kind and generous, and had been quick to welcome me as one of them.

I veer off the road and into a flower shop with glass windows displaying beautiful bouquets of chrysanthemums and jasmines. A small bell jingles as I open the door.

Immediately I’m hit with the sweet, intoxicating mix of floral aromas. An old man sits behind the counter writing on a notepad. His name is Charlie, and he was the first person I met on this planet. I still remember when I first came to this planet, confused and lost. He’s the one who helped me blend in. Charlie is the only human who knows I’m an alien.

Charlie looks up. “Morning, Natalie.”

“Good morning, Charlie,” I reply cheerily.

“Another bouquet? You’ve nearly bought half my store! Is this an alien thing?”

I grin. “You could say that.”

It’s true. I love flowers’ scent, their beauty, and their fragility. Back on my home planet, the landscape consists of sand and dirt, and the rare patch of grass. Flowers are a miracle of nature.

“May I have another dozen roses?” I ask, pulling a twenty-dollar bill from my pocket.

As he makes his way toward me, holding the flowers, Charlie asks: “Did you hear about the latest attack on the Germans?”

I shake my head. I’m still trying to wrap my head around the fact that there could be such violent dispute between the same species. My people all have the same beliefs, dictated by our queen. Our brains are all wired to think alike. Once my people come to this planet, our queen will wire the humans’ brain the same way so that there would be no more animosity. Only peace.

“Attacks like these remind me how lucky I am to live in a small town. Makes me feel safe,” Charlie continues. He hands me the bouquet. I offer him the money, but he shakes his head. “This one’s on the house.”

“Thank you,” I say, taking the bouquet and turning on my heels. “Have a good day.”

“Only if you do.”

I walk out the door. By now, the town is more active. Parents hug their kids before sending them to school, people are climbing into cars to go to work with their cups of coffee. The buzz of indistinct chatter fills the air, music to my ears. Laughs ring out. This town is so small and secluded, so filled with innocence and love.

This town is so beautiful.

That’s when I hear the engine of a soaring plane. This sounds faster and louder than usual.

The plane flies overhead. I look up. As it passes the town, something black drops out the bottom of it. I watch, transfixed.

My mind flashes back to when Charlie showed me pictures of the war last week.

Suddenly it all clicks.

And that’s when I realize…


My eardrums shatter from the explosion. The road violently erupts all around me, chunks of pavement tearing through the air. Sheer force knocks into my chest, sending me flying backward, the world blurring before my eyes. My body slams into something solid, and everything goes black.
When I regain consciousness, sirens are screaming. I hear crying and shouting. Ringing blares in my ears, and I groan, clutching my head in pain. My back feels broken, but already my body is hyperhealing, and a few minutes later I’m able to stand.

The street is littered with bodies. Every single building has chunks missing, if not completely demolished. Charlie stumbles out of his shop, his head bleeding. Widening my eyes, I rush toward him with alien speed. He collapses, but I catch him and gently set him down, his head on my lap.

“Charlie…” My voice cracks. Something leaks out of my eyes.

“I—I guess I was wrong,” Charlie mutters. “We weren’t safe after all.” He looks up at me, his soulful brown eyes leaking the same clear fluid as mine. Then his eyes lose their light and his body goes limp.

My chest burns. I feel like I want to hurt the people who did this. I’ve never felt this way before. What’s happening to me?

Am I becoming too human?

I yell in fury, morphing back to my original, alien form. My back sprouts wings, and suddenly I’m soaring toward the sky and into space, speeding at a lightyear a second.

The humans are too corrupt to fix. We won’t survive on their planet, whether or not we’re one of them. Anger flaming inside of me, I send a telepathic message to the queen:

Kill them all.

# # #

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

December 8+9 Book Club Report

Attendance was down a bit this month for 8+9 Book Club, because of finals and illness (or illness caused by finals?), but we still had 13 in the room to discuss To All the Boys I've Loved Before, by Jenny Han. That included a new member, Aedin (welcome!).

Those who were expecting a sappy, stereotypical romance seemed pleasantly surprised by the book's twists, and it was mentioned how much people enjoyed the relationships between the three sisters, the interaction between the fake boyfriend and the littlest sister, and some of the less predictable plot points. Some club members had already gone on to read the sequels, and encouraged the others to do so as well. We had an unprecedented number of 10s as scores, and ended up with a final rating of 8.25.

Next month, we are reading Ink and Bone, the first volume in Rachel Caine's imaginary alternate history of what would have happened if the Great Library of Alexandria had never burned down. And for February, after a couple of run-off votes, we are reading Trial by Fire (Worldwalker #1), by Josephine Angelini.

Other books we considered, in approximate descending order by popularity, were:

Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline
The Fixer, by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Starflight, by Melissa Landry
The Sun Is Also A Star, by Nicola Yoon
Dumplin', by Julie Murphy
The Sword of Summer (Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard #1), by Rick Riordan

And to check out for later:
Arcane (the Arinthian Line #1), by Sever Bronny
Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow

Our next meeting is on Tuesday, January 23. We will be back at Buena Vista!

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

December Book Club Report

Thirteen of us really enjoyed both reading and then discussing The Truth Commission, by Susan Juby, in December's 10-12 Book Club last week. Most people enjoyed the format (written as if it were a diary/class project assignment), the silly footnotes, and the story itself. The comment was made that these characters were compelling because they had particular, individual personalities, and all of them were interesting. And we all agreed that Normandy's sister was pretty heinous! Our conclusion was that we all wanted to go live in that town and go to that art school (even we elderly librarians, if we could get a second shot at high school). The book received a rating of 8.55 that included two perfect 10s and seven votes of 9! One of our highest ratings.

For January, the club is reading Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline, a book long anticipated by some club members, just in time to get it read before the movie comes out.

In a somewhat stunning upset, we selected Bellweather Rhapsody, by Kate Racculia, as our February book.

Other books we considered (in approximate descending order by popularity) included:

The Vault of Dreamers, by Caragh M. O'Brien
Passenger, by Alexandra Bracken
Heist Society, by Ally Carter
The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss
The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman
Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman
All Quiet on the Western Front, by Erich Maria Remarque

Our next meeting is on Thursday, January 11.

Thirteen also met for 6+7 Book Club, and our book this month was Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen, which had a much cooler reception. Although everyone thought the premise (a boy left hanging in midair in a plane whose pilot has had a heart attack and died) was compelling, many took issue with Paulsen's writing style, and felt like the events of the book were alternately too rushed and too slow. One person genuinely loved the book, and others were either in the "I admired it but it wasn't for me" camp or in the "I disliked this" group. Our final rating for the book was a solid 7.

Next month, we indulged ourselves by choosing the sequel to last month's book, so that we get to find out what happened to those crazy kids in Variant, by Robison Wells, by reading Feedback, the second book in the duology. No spoilers here, but people are really looking forward to this next episode.

For February, although there were many popular books in contention, ultimately none could beat out Cinder, by Marissa Meyer.

Other books we considered (in approximately descending order) were:

All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook, by Leslie Connor
Dream A Little Dream, by Kerstin Gier
A Tale of Highly Unusual Magic, by Lisa Papademetriou
Ender's Shadow, by Orson Scott Card (someday, Kaleb)
The War That Saved My Life, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Our January meeting is on Tuesday, January 9.

8+9 Book Club comes up next week, so stay tuned...

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Honorable Mentions: Post #1

For Teen Read Month, Burbank Public Library sponsored a writing contest, called "Stranger In A Strange Land." Here is a story from one of our four writers who received an honorable mention:

Emotions and Their Meanings… to Martians
by Victoria Krohl, grade seven

It was a clear, crisp, day. Destined to be completely normal for some, desperately strange for others. And on this day, in the quiet little town of Bibury, in England, a starship has landed. In this starship, a Martian shapeshifter and his pilot have touched down to earth. These Martians, from the planet Xantiana, are an incredibly advanced species. With intelligence more advanced than any college scholar, their smarts match those of Albert Einstein, possibly surpassing him. While these creatures are incredibly advanced in mental capabilities, they have very little knowledge about emotions and psychology. For example, they know how to operate a complex surgery, but they do not understand why the person's family cries when he or she survives or dies. Some people could argue that this makes them cold-hearted killing machines, but they aren’t. They just don’t understand it. This is the Martian's mission: Observe the life forms on Earth, and how their emotions affect their lives.

The starship has landed and the gleaming silicon hatch opens. A creature steps out, its figure constantly changing. Never settling on one figure, you only catch glimpses of each thing before it changes to something else. Deer horns, chicken feet, snake tail, boar head, angel wings. The extremities keep changing. The creature walks forward, and waves goodbye to his pilot. The pilot waves back, and flies into hyperspace.

The creature looks at a gadget on his wrist. Very similar to a watch, it can tell time, but it also tells the Martian his location. It can also receive messages from his boss (it is kind of like a smart watch). Right now, the creature is in Bibury, England, on the continent of Europe. With a population of 627, and the nearest school, Bibury school, 0.5 miles away, the Martian starts to walk. It’s Monday, and the buzz of people greets the Martian's ears. The Martian quickly changes his figure to a 4-foot-11-inch tall 13-year-old boy with brownish-black hair, and hazel eyes. A yellow school bus comes rumbling around the corner, and kids get on in single file. The Martian gets on, sees everyone else has a backpack, and quickly materializes one. He finds a seat, and sits.

A guy walks over to the Martian and says “Hi, I’m Jax, can I sit here?” and without waiting for an answer, he sits and proceeds to greet a buddy.

“Hey man! How was your summer?” Jax calls out.

And the guy replies, “Boring, my parents took my phone away.”

“Aw man, that sucks. I’ll talk to you later.” Jax responds

“See you around. ”

More and more kids board the bus. Soon enough, the bus stops in front of a building, Bibury School. The kids file out and rush into the building. Noise and clamor ring through the halls. The Martian follows Jax and they walk into a classroom. When the teacher starts talking about classroom rules, the Martian knows he won’t find any information here. The Martian gets up and walks out of the classroom, and no one notices. He walks out of the school building, and quickly arrives at the town he started in. He walks around, overhearing bits and pieces of conversations.

Mom! I don’t want to!

I can’t believe it! I did it! Yeah!

No way!

But the conversation that confuses him the most is when he overhears a woman crying into the phone. He listens some more, and he finds out that the woman's grandmother has died. But why is she so sad? the Martian wonders. He keeps listening, and he hears the woman say, “Grandma meant everything to me. She taught me lessons I will never forget, and now she’s gone.”

The Martian keeps walking, and finds a bench and sits.

He starts to think.

“Maybe she’s crying because she feels gratitude toward her? Well, she was her family and if the grandma helped her live life to the fullest, maybe she feels indebted to her? Agh! This is confusing.”

The Martian gets up, and keeps walking. He walks to a park and he see little kids playing. A kid drops his ice cream cone, and starts to cry. This gets the martian thinking again.

“So he dropped his cone, and now he's crying. He’s crying because he was looking forward to eating his ice cream,and now it’s gone. So if the woman was the kid and the grandma the ice cream cone, the woman is sad because the ice cream (her grandma) is gone. But a woman wouldn’t bawl over an ice cream cone. She must be feeling a stronger emotion. What is that emotion?”

A stranger walks up to the Martian. “You look like you are in deep thought, young man. Care to clue me in?” the man asks.

“I’m thinking about emotions. I overheard someone crying on the phone about their grandma's death, and I don’t understand all of the emotions she’s feeling,” the Martian replies.

“Ah. Well, when someone dies, you feel all sorts of emotions. Grief, sadness, despair, love. And those are only so-” the man starts to reply.

“Oh! I got it! Thank you!” The Martian gets up and runs to a quiet spot.

The man mutters, “Well, that was a strange child, I didn’t even finish explaining.” He shrugs and walks away.

The Martian continues analyzing the information he’s just received. “So love is an emotion you feel toward someone else. Despair must be when you feel like nothing will ever be the same again? I think the boss will be satisfied with this information. Though I wish my time on Earth didn’t have to end.” All of a sudden, the Martian's watch buzzes.

"Martian 3x57678782, what is the status update on your mission?”

Do I tell him or do I not? the Martian thinks.

“Boss, I have not completed my mission. I am requesting more time.”

“Request granted.” the boss says, and the Martian smiles.

# # #

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Top Writers, Post #4

For Teen Read Month, Burbank Public Library sponsored a writing contest, called "Stranger In A Strange Land." Here is the last story from one of our four top writers:

My Trip to Hollywood
by Caleb Vaughan, grade 11

“How was your trip to Earth?” my friend asked me.

“I feel so lied to!” I said.

"Why?” asked my friend.

“Well, you know all those transmissions our planet has been getting, showing all of the cool things Earth has to offer?”

“I am familiar with them." he said.

“Well, I’ll tell you what happened!” I said “And boy, let me tell you, it was not pretty.”

"So I fly my ship to this place the inhabitants of Earth call Hollywood, the place all the transmissions have been coming from, and I land my ship next to what the humans call a Liquor Store.

“What’s that?” asked my friend.

“It’s a place where the humans buy liquor.”

“What’s liquor?” he asked.

“Not important to the story,” I said.

“Okay, Carry on.”

Okay, well, it should have been my first warning that things were not as they seemed when after entering said store and asking the clerk where the teleporter was, he looked at me like I was a loon. I had never seen such a dirty place as Earth, with garbage all over the ground, and smog in the air. I didn’t let it deter me, though, and I was still excited as I walked down a street called Hollywood Boulevard. The place was crowded with humans. Everywhere signs advertised Rent-A-Lamborghini, and Hollywood Tour Lines. I saw many of the beings shown in the transmissions: Han Solo, Captain America, Superman, heck, even SpongeBob showed up.

"Amazing how these celebrities just walk the streets like that!” I thought.

I wondered why they weren’t being hounded by the masses, who in fact looked like they were trying to avoid them altogether. On closer inspection, I also noticed that many of them had let themselves go. I went up to Captain Kirk, who was about 50 standard units heavier than he looked in the transmissions. I asked him about his inexplicable weight gain, but he told me “buzz off kid!” I couldn’t believe the honorable Captain Kirk of Starfleet would say such a thing!

Though shaken, I took a crowded, dirty bus to a place called Warner Bros. Studios. I went in and asked the guy at the front desk where the spaceships are docked.

“You mean the set pieces?” the guy said.

“What? What do you mean? I want to see the spaceships!”

“You mean the sets where we film the movies? There aren’t actually any ships,” he said.

I lost it.

“What do you mean no ships? Where are the ships?! The Enterprise, the Millennium Falcon, the Serenity? Where are the teleporters? Where are the hover bikes? Your planet is nothing! It’s all meaningless!”

At this point I hear the guy calling for security and the next thing I knew, two thugs had thrown me out onto the curb of Olive Avenue. After all I went through, I got in there and it was all a fake! Fake, I tell you! A stupid hoax. I felt so betrayed; but looking back, what would you expect from a species that that is so incredibly primitive that they still think that digital watches are a neat idea?

I walked along aimlessly, thinking myself quite the fool, when I happened upon a nice little restaurant called Bob’s Big Boy, and after a hamburger and a shake (that I had to pay for with money, mind you--the humans are so primitive that they haven’t even gotten rid of cash yet) I felt a little better.

“I always knew there was something up with those transmissions,” said my friend. “They always seemed to work out for the humans in the end. I have never seen anything so lucky. Week after week they defeat some hostile race trying to take them over.”

“Well, I know that now,” I said.

I decided to make the best of it before I got out of there. So I went to a baseball game, something that is for some reason exciting for the humans' primitive minds. Then I went to the La Brea Tar Pits, a place documenting the evolution of human existence. They got so much of it wrong. The so-called smart Earthlings are the ones coming up with this stuff?

I took a bus back to where my ship was hiding, only to find that it had been broken into and the radio had been stolen. At this point I had given up. I hated Earth, I hated humanity, and I certainly hated the pit of lies and broken dreams that was Hollywood.

“No wonder they still haven’t developed warp speed yet!” I thought to myself as I took off. “They are so focused on making entertainment that they have totally lost sight of the big picture.”

After taking off and orbiting Earth a few times I had to wonder to myself. “Is this really what the whole place is like?”

“I don’t ever want to go back there again,” I said to my friend.

“Well, you probably won’t be able to, because when they build that new intergalactic superhighway, they are going to bulldoze right through the place,” he said.

To which I replied, “Good riddance.”

# # #

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Top Writers, Post #3

For Teen Read Month, Burbank Public Library sponsored a writing contest, called "Stranger In A Strange Land." Here is another story from one of our four top writers:

Elian the Being
by Gracie Miller, grade 6

March 2, 1984

I am Elian, I have traveled across the stars to study a planet called Earth. A few others of my species, called the Kryiomi, are assigned to report back to my home planet about the lifeforms that live on Earth. On the planet Quiod, there are many Kryiomi. We are very tall compared to the lifeforms on Earth. We have feathered wings, horns, and six eyes. Our ears are on the lower back part of our almond-shaped head, which is mostly scaly. We have long, thin, muscular arms, four long bony fingers with claws, and our bodies are covered in scales. Our long tails are covered in fur, and used as legs, although we hover in the air instead of walking or crawling on the ground like other civilizations.

I said goodbye to my family and friends, telling them I will return after a year of observation. Plans are to land in the savanna of Africa. I must not be seen by any lifeform, so I will have to shapeshift before I land. Once I landed, I quickly changed into an acacia tree. I can observe life-forms without being discovered this way.

I see a tan fur creature with brown spots, slender body, large paws, a tail and ears on the top of its head, I believe it’s called a cheetah. I see another creature, a gazelle I think, run over. The cheetah crouches down under the tall yellow grass, watching the gazelle. The gazelle looks around and without fear starts to eat the grass. The cheetah springs out and attempts to pounce on the gazelle, but the gazelle tries to slip away and the cheetah chases it. I can see in the distance the cheetah catches the gazelle and eats it. They are not friends. Next, I see a scaly creature called a pangolin, and an animal called a lion following behind it. As the lion attempts to attack it, the pangolin rolls up in a ball and defends itself. The scales cut the lion, but it still tries to eat the pangolin. Strange.

March 18, 1984

It’s been 16 days since my last update, and I have discovered the most dominate life-form, the elephant. I have decided to blend in with them and hopefully discover new things about this Earth. I had training back on Quiod that taught me to communicate with nearly every life-form on this planet, so communication will not be a problem. When no one is looking, I transform into an elephant. I follow the rest of the elephants to their home. I will report back in two weeks.

April 1, 1984

I have been studying the elephants for a while now, and have noticed that they are very friendly and social. Sadly, the horrible naked apes that walk on two legs have been killing these amazing creatures for their tusks. All of the other life-forms that live here know better, and stay far away from these massive creatures. They seem to know if they try to attack us, they will be trampled on. The Kryiomi are just barely larger than these elephants. I feel comfortable around them, and think that I fit in with them. I am not a leader or an outcast, so I can study them more easily.

April 20, 1984

Today, the elephants and I have gone to an oasis to get water. I notice a small animal stuck in between two rocks, I stop to help it with my trunk and tusks. The rest of the elephants walk on ahead as I try to help this poor creature, but then I hear something. It’s coming from behind me. I turn around and see several naked apes, and they have guns! Quickly I transform into my true form, and melt their guns. They run off screaming but I do not let them escape that easy. I use my telekinesis and pick them up in the air as they wail and beg for forgiveness. I pull them closer and using their language, I tell them to give me one good reason why I shouldn’t tear them apart, when they were about to hurt a creature that has done nothing to them. They promise to be good, and plead for forgiveness, so I drop them, and set them free. I look around to find that I am lost, and I cannot find the herd of elephants.

May 4, 1984

After wandering for weeks of searching, I finally join back up with the elephants and soon discover that one of the new young, has been poached. I have decided to get involved and find the naked apes that do these things, and kill them.

June 29, 1984

I found the poachers that killed the young, then realized that they are similar to the elephants. Turns out these naked apes have feelings, children, needs, and a sense of humor. I thought about killing them, but then I thought, wouldn’t that make me just like them? I have been living among these extraordinary creatures for about 3 ½ months, and have really grown accustomed to their life style.

August 2, 1984

My time here is soon to be over. Due to the death of our current ruler, the missions have been discontinued. I am going to leave soon. I am depressed about having to leave the elephants behind, and the fact that our ruler died, but I am also happy because I get to go home sooner.

September 1, 1984

Today I am ordered to leave this planet. I have decided not to go. I will miss the Kryiomis back on Quiod, but there is much work left to do. I am teaching my new Earth friends to be protective instead of attacking each other. This was my choice to make. I might visit Quiod again someday, but until then, this is Elian saying goodbye.

# # #

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

What we're reading: A mesmerizing fantasy

I was poking around for something to read last weekend, and discovered a book called Every Heart A Doorway, by Seanan McGuire, sitting unread on my Kindle. As I recall, the way it got there was as a bargain offering from one of the e-book services to which I subscribe; I vaguely remember thinking, Oh, that sounds sort of intriguing, buying it for a whopping $1.99, and never thinking of it again!

I'm so glad it landed there, regardless of how; what an amazing, perfect little story it is! I know many people have great love for Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs, and while that book had a certain offbeat charm, this is the book that I thought it would be, and wished it had been. Other than the wonderful photographs in that book, I didn't love it; but Every Heart A Doorway took my breath away, telling the story that everyone wants to hear.

There are, throughout fiction, and particularly in the fairy tale tradition, so many stories of children who disappear, some never to return, while others go away for awhile and come back but are never quite the same. From the old chestnut "Rip Van Winkle" to the Tiffany Aching books by Terry Pratchett, from Brenna Yovanoff's changelings to the journeys into Faerie taken in Julie Kagawa's series, from the Chronicles of Narnia to Cornelia Funke's Mirrorworld books, the stories are perpetuated of strange worlds accessed by doors and windows and burrows and mirrors that lead somewhere.... But finally, in Every Heart A Doorway, we have the bringing together of a group of "the returned" to Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children, a boarding school run by a schoolmistress who went away, herself, to another world when young and therefore can empathize with their plight, stranded back in this one. Bewildered parents try to get their blessedly restored children to behave as they used to, but the children spend all their time longing to go back to the worlds where they finally felt they belonged, and the desperate parents send them to Eleanor, hoping for a miracle. But they may not get the one they're wishing for....

This story was magical. Furthermore, the writing, the descriptions, the characters, and the mystery were all both lyrical and inspired. And although the description sounds old-fashioned, the telling of it is anything but: The message I liked the best is that there is no one way to be a girl, and there is no one way to love.

Why have I never heard of this author? She has apparently won multiple Hugo Awards and has written a slew of books, and I came upon her by sheer accident, only to be blown away.

The first thing I did as soon as I finished this book (which didn't take long--that's the only fault I have to find with these, is that they are more novellas than novels, because they are so short) is to immediately read the next book, Down Among the Sticks and Bones. That book turned out to be a prequel, since it details what happened to two of the characters (twin girls) from the first book, immediately before that book started.

It was so, so good. Jack and Jill's background and their sojourn in the world of the moors dovetailed so nicely into the first story and was such a satisfying explanation of their behavior in that book. And even though both books are short (each under 200 pages!), they are (in my opinion, anyway) gems of perfection. There is a third book, Beneath the Sugar Sky, returning us to the boarding school, coming out in January, and I can hardly contain my impatience!

Please note, teens, that although the protagonists are teenagers, for some reason we never bought this series for our teen sections; you will find these two (and the book to come) in the adult Science Fiction section of the library. We also own the first book on audio. Definitely travel over to that section to check these out!

Monday, December 4, 2017


We had big fun on Thursday doing our Suminagashi paper marbling craft. We explored the various methods of creating patterns–the two-brush touch method that creates dozens (or hundreds if you have the patience) of concentric circles, vs. the dot method whereby you drop various colors onto small floating dots in the tank and watch the colors push the dots like little speedboats over the surface as they spread out. We tried alternating colors with soapy water in the concentric method to get clear circles among our colored ones. We used various implements, including self-created “rakes” made of fat straws with toothpicks stuck through them at one-inch intervals, and afro combs, as well as the opposite ends of our paintbrushes, to move the color around over the surface to create patterns. We tried out various papers and cardstocks, with varying rates of success.

On Friday, after the paper had dried out, everyone returned, and we followed a video on YouTube to make lovely gift bags out of our paper, and decorated them with handles made variously from rick-rack, ribbon, or pipe cleaners. Some people made bookmarks, also using ribbons, while others concentrated on making greeting cards, all different. We had planned to cover picture mats with the paper, wrapping and gluing them, but we took a risk, on Thursday, and dropped one of the picture mats directly into the marbling tank, and that worked so well that we didn’t bother with covering, we just dunked them all instead! We also tried making plain paper bags first and THEN marbling them, with some success, although coverage on the folded sides was problematic.

Over all, we had a great time, and everyone was immensely satisfied with this craft. We have plenty of inks, papers, and accessories left, and will definitely pull this one out for an encore sometime in the near future.

Because Anarda was out this week, Hubert acted as my able assistant, and did a great job of keeping things going with the crafts while I was occupied showing some new kids how to marbleize. The only thing that neither of us succeeded at very well was remembering to take photos, with the result that there are only eight or nine here on our Facebook page, and none of any of the gift bags! Oh well…as Scarlet says, “Tomorrow IS another day.”

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Top Writers: Post #2

For Teen Read Month, Burbank Public Library sponsored a writing contest, called "Stranger In A Strange Land." Here is another story from one of our four top writers:

A Planet of Suffering
by Katrina Darwich, grade 10

I don’t like this planet.

It’s too loud.

It’s too crowded.

It’s too confusing.

My planet is simple and quiet and tranquil.

But I am no longer on my planet.

I’m here on yours.

I was sent here five weeks ago, my trip taking 14 hours to complete. It was long, but I’d managed to amuse myself along the way to keep homesickness at bay. But now, I’m so homesick it hurts. I want to shift into my smallest form and just curl into a ball and never emerge. I can’t though, I have a reason for coming to this noisy, smelly, dizzying planet.

It was to look for lifeforms like you.

I was told to find intelligent lifeforms and report back on my findings. Honestly though, I’m not sure if intelligent was the right word. You have clever beings here, who are ahead of the rest on this planet. But compared to my people, you are all centuries behind. We are the future and you are the past, primitive and thick in comparison. 

But then again, we have a small population of our people who are stupid and completely senseless, making your geniuses look like geniuses. So really, who do we compare to you lifeforms? Do I compare our greatest scientists, our poor and stupid, or myself? Intelligence is difficult to compare, especially across two completely different species.

But despite having geniuses, you do not understand the simplest of things.

I landed in a small patch of untouched land in the middle of a bustling, screeching, rushing city in what I understand to be called a ‘park.’ How cruel of you beings to tease the creatures who believe their homes are untouched, when stepping a simple foot out of their grassy borders gets them killed. They think the world is still so big, when really, it has been clipped and shaved until there is scarcely enough room to breathe. Why not line them all up and run them all down with those thundering metal machines you all adore riding in? Why not suffocate them here and now with the poisonous fog that pours from your buildings as you make objects you will only throw away tomorrow? Why not poison them instead of lacing their water with wastes and discarded pastimes? Follow any method of execution that pleases your sick minds, but please, don’t torture them any longer. 

Don’t let them stare at their crippled, bleeding legs after one of your machines tramples them, don’t let them struggle for air for generations and cough blood until they cannot breathe, don’t let their insides burn and melt from the chemicals you so uncaringly tossed into their water supply, chemicals too strong for immunity yet too weak to bring a swift death. I have taken all of their forms, taken on all of their struggles and hardships in a matter of days. And I’ve found myself horrified by their pathetic existences. How strange that you all marvel and smile adoringly at the sight of them, yet turn a deaf ear to their laments of suffering.

But, you treat your own kind no better.

You laugh at the sight of another’s misery, even those you call family and friend. What a frivolous title indeed. On my planet, a friend is someone you treat with respect and love. They are family that do not share your blood. A family you build on your own. But here, friends are the people that share your hatreds. They despise the same things and people you do, and so you are united through your abhorrence. Friends on this planet both abuse and get abused. You call them derogatory names and treat them like dirt. And they do the same in return. And still you call one another friend. Friends lie and cheat and steal from one another here; at home my friends do not do that. When I am happy, they do not stare at me with spite or jealousy at my good fortune. They grin with honest pleasure and share in my joy. When I am stricken by grief they do not smirk and sigh with relief that they are not me. At home, they weep with me and share my sorrows. I lean on them, and they lean on me.

Reliable and trustworthy. On my planet, what you call friends are considered enemies. Rivals. Competitors. But not friends, that title is desecrated here beyond repair.

The word Family has no meaning here. Or rather, not the same as at home.

Family is unity and structure. It is what we all have to fall back on when times are difficult. Family looks out for one another and never abandons. They are there to protect, nurture, and provide wisdom that comes from years of experience. Family is blood and strong. It is what makes a society sturdy.

If that were true here, this planet would be consumed in flames of chaos.

All the families I have seen here are broken. Like a shattered vase, there is no way to fix them, not with so many important pieces gone and the rest in shards. Families on this planet are supposed to be made of two mates who protect and adore their progeny. In truth though, mates disappear or vanish with no desire to be found. And those who do stay become angry or hopeless or spiteful towards their offspring. Mothers that should care for their offspring run of with others, eyes glinting with lust for freedom, adventure and success. They never wanted to bear children. Not really anyway. Fathers that should protect their brood from predators become the greater dangers to their offspring. They beat them, they cuss at them, they bash their dreams with clubs of disappointment and wicked bats of hopelessness. The progeny are left to fend for themselves, left to scavenge for food and resources all on their own. Sometimes they grow tougher and hardened to the world. Others grow weaker, and succumb to the hopelessness that slices along their skin like hot blades, leaving wounds and burns that will never heal. They were crippled before they could ever run. They were blind before they could ever see. They would dead before they could ever live. The offspring make me saddest. They had no voice in the destruction of their future. Fate dealt them a cruel hand, and they were stuck playing that way for the rest of the game. No wonder so many of them cheat.

You are all bizarre to me, but what I find strangest, is how comfortable you are with taking your own life.

Life is a gift. Life is something scientific and magical all at once. Birth is a long, difficult process, many mothers do not survive it. And those who lose their offspring in the process are stricken by grief for the rest of their lives. So how come so many of you throw that gift away? Why do you swallow little white pills, put blades to your wrists and string yourself up so easily? 

Discarding the gift your parents puts into raising you? Especially the mothers who carry you, do you not think of their suffering? Don’t you consider the agony they must feel when you, their greatest achievement, are left dangling from a ceiling? Or lying face down in a bedroom? Or bleeding to death in the bath? You lament that you are so unwanted, that you’d be better off dead. That your mother had you by mistake. That your father never wanted you. That you were nothing more than baggage to the ones you loved. That you didn’t deserve to live. 

When really, if you didn’t deserve to live, wouldn’t you have been dead by now? If your parents had hated you so deeply, wouldn’t you have been forgotten completely? Wouldn’t their faces remain blank at the sight of you, their heads remain still at your cries? Surely if you made it this far, it was no mistake. My people and I worship Fate. It is not a religion, but a spiritual understanding. If you remain alive, if air still fills your lungs and you manage to change from form to form, surely Fate has some reason for you to live. We believe that if you trust in Fate long enough, and continue on your path, you will find the reason Fate kept you alive. Taking your life is interfering with Fate’s master plan, and therefore the many fates of those around you. It is taboo to take your life on my planet, because you carry so many ties along with you, ties put there by Fate. And only Fate decides when to snip away useless threads, or the threads that have already served their purpose.

I was told, when I left my home, that your species could only take one form. But now I realize that is not true. You may stay in the same shape and size, but you become different creatures when with different beings. You’re not the same when your with family, friends, strangers or animals. Or even by yourself. I saw a girl once, sixteen in age, and taking the form of a bird I followed her for one week. She would laugh and sing with her friends, becoming what you call ‘a social butterfly,’ only to shift forms when with strangers. Then, she would become quiet and polite, smiling faintly from under locks of dark hair. A fair doe, docile and innocent. Among those she called family her form would change once again, and she would become a second mother to her siblings, stern but attentive. A crocodile mother, guarding her offspring with a firm but understanding disposition. When she was alone, however, she became something practically unrecognizable. Longing and heartache etched themselves upon her face, and her eyes would grow deep with loneliness. Sadness held her captive, and her voice would never rise above a mutter. A weeping willow, bent by the stress and fear that rained down upon her like hail. She would never admit that she wished for things she could not have, or were forbidden to have. 

Never admit that she longed for so much more. But she had grown up learning to settle, to take what she had been given and be grateful for it, never asking for more. She had grown up taking whatever she could get and producing her finest, even if it made her ill. The girl would impress everyone with a persona of self assurance, when she really didn’t understand herself at all. 

I tried turning into one of you only once out of curiosity, but all the emotions that burn through you like hot metal--anger, spite, jealousy, passion, grief, confusion, fear--were too much for me to handle. I could scarcely stay in that form for more than a minute and had to change into something simple and quiet to regain my sanity. This confusion about one’s self frightened me. And frightened her as well. Was she her achievements, her faults, her likes and dislikes? Was she what friends made her out to be, or what her parents desired of her? I could understand this creature well, for us it is hard to find a form we truly like and can accept as our own. At least all of our forms look different. How are you to decide which form is truly you if they all look the same? It must take you all of your lives to decide on who you really are.

I was told to see if this planet was worthy of colonization (but not an invasion like you have done to the native people upon this land). A peaceful colonization of a few hundred of our species, to live and thrive and experiment on the elements that reside here.

But I must go back and tell them that it is not worth the trip or resources.

This planet is sad and broken, full of suffering life forms that cry for each other’s help and receive none of it. You are a very sad species; you all hurt so much, and never ask for each other’s help. You are all broken inside, scared of your neighbor and what you do not understand.

You can keep your planet, we do not want it. We are better off searching elsewhere. All I can do for your species is hope that you realize that you do not need to search for far off places to make new homes. The best thing you can do is better the one you already have. I must leave, and convince my people that this is not the place we are searching for. This is not the planet we want.

It’s too confusing.

It’s too crowded.

It’s too loud.

I do not like this planet.

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