Review by: Sasha Davis
The three teenagers at the center of I Hope You Get This Message are a hot mess with terrible parents.
This book has so much going for it from the get-go: multiple queer characters, multiple characters of color, an author of color who is also a woman, acknowledgement of mental health struggles, and aliens. I was so excited about the multitudes of diversity available in one sci-fi novel that I set out determined to care about each and every character, to really dive into the story and appreciate every word.
That proves to be a little hard to do.
We start with Jesse, a high school student that at first glance seems like a kid just struggling with some hard life stuff. Being gay doesn’t even seem to be that big of a deal for him, it’s not his central struggle which is always nice to see. I want to know more about his life. It becomes harder to like him as the story progresses, unfortunately. I find myself frustrated with characters who have opportunities to grow and find stability and…just don’t take it. The other two central characters have a purpose, a mission, and while Jesse has a goal – keep from getting evicted – it seems half-hearted. There’s no point that I find myself rooting for him once I’m halfway through the book, and it’s disappointing.
Cate seems like a nice girl who is living in a rough situation. Her single mother is a paranoid schizophrenic whose illness is mostly managed, but a great deal of the parenting actually comes from Cate. She feels the weight of unfair responsibility: being required for their mutual well-being to be the one – as a teenager – who makes sure mom takes her medication and goes to work, and does the basic day to day things. The pressure Cate feels is extremely realistic and will be familiar to anyone who has ever had to parent a parent through mental illness. She begins as the most sympathetic character, but I found myself wishing more and more that she would learn something, that she would grow.
Adeem is the character I came to the end liking the most. His story begins with a typical amount of teenage angst and he remains the steady one throughout. Even though he largely has no idea what he’s doing, he’s earnest and consistent in the choices he makes. His quest is for his sister who left two years prior and hasn’t been heard from since. I find him to be the most believable character in the whole book, even when he loses his temper it’s just so normal and expected under the circumstances that it’s a comfort. But even his relationship with his family feels like contrived angst – not a single parent in this entire book doesn’t suck on some level.
The story itself is compelling – an alien race has sent a message that in just over a week they plan to exterminate humanity. How does humanity react to that? Jesse doesn’t believe it and concocts a way to take advantage of peoples fear in order to make enough money to keep him and his mother in their home. Cate becomes completely dedicated to the idea of finding her always-absent father, and Adeem just wants to know why his sister abandoned him, the possibility of the world ending makes that feel a lot more urgent than it was before. Their variety of reactions to the overarching situation, at least, feels genuine to the vagaries of people.
Watching the story unfold and following along as these three children’s paths begin to cross is engaging. I want to know how and if they’re going to find their family members, I want to know if the aliens are really about to end the world. I kept reading even as the characters became more difficult to connect with because I just needed to know what happens in the end.
One thing I am on the fence about is the inclusion of the alien grand jury. I almost feel like the ending would be even more compelling if their point of view was completely absent. What’s that saying, “If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don’t put it there.” Ultimately, for me the alien point of view feels like an unfired gun. But at the same time it’s kind of cool to watch pieces of their own debate about whether or not they’re doing the right thing destroying the human race. I wish the author had done more with it in either direction: less or more of the aliens would have benefitted the narrative.
All in all I think I would recommend this book for lovers of sci-fi as a quick and easy read with an interesting angle on alien invasion. And it’s always nice to read a book that has an interesting and diverse cast not just having the same old adventure. A relatively engaging story with enjoyable aspects, but it won’t go on my favorites list.