Hilo: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth (Book 1) by Judd Winick
Given all the anti-immigrant hubbub in the news, Hilo is an absolutely surprising standout, least of all because the blonde, sometimes blue-eyed (not on the cover, but check pages 8 and 33, for example) hero here turns out to be the alien.
Yup, Hilo (as in ‘high-low’) is the eponymous ‘boy who crashed to earth.’ His two new friends turn out to be a 10-year-old Asian American named D.J. Lim, who initially discovers him (and gives Hilo the very clothes that cover his “breezy” silver underwear, thank you very much), and D.J.’s childhood best friend, an African American girl named Gina Cooper, who returns after a three-year absence from the neighborhood. This is the real America.
Hilo and D.J. meet on the run. Literally. “It was a really weird day,” D.J. explains as the two boys are trying to outrun an oversized beast of unknown origins. After Hilo saves D.J. with superpowers neither knew he had, the two go home to D.J.’s and attempt to live a normal-enough life, albeit with Hilo hidden away from the rest of the Lim family. They just wouldn’t understand.
D.J.’s closet doesn’t contain Hilo for long, and he turns up at school. He proves to be a remarkably quick learner, although he’s somewhat lacking in social training. As he attempts to adapt to life as an earthling tween, memories of his complicated past start to return. Of course, alternate universes, black holes, and mortal danger are all but a few panels away.
Creator Judd Winick has been an award-winning cartoonist, animator, show creator (The Life and Times of Juniper Lee, The Awesomes) for a good many years. [Reality TV groupies with good memories: if his name sounds familiar, that’s because he was big-deal news as an MTV The Real World: San Francisco cast member in 1994. He wrote Pedro & Me, about his Real World roommate and friend, the late AIDS activist Pedro Zamora. Winick survived the show and gained a wife, fellow cast member Dr. Pam Ling.]
In spite of Winick’s mega-graphic success, however, most of his creative output couldn’t be shared with his own young children, he explains in a letter accompanying the galley. His work was “geared toward older kids and grown-ups.” So he got his 7-year-old hooked on Jeff Smith’s Bone series, and promptly got jealous. His reaction? “I can do this. … I can make a funny adventure story too, and WIN BACK MY SON’S LOVE.”
Beyond Winick’s own offspring, multitudes of young readers are going to be delighted, as well. This is just Book 1: it’s goofy, heart-thumping, exciting, funny, and even fittingly diverse without any head-slamming, didactic agendas. Be patient: more volumes are forthcoming (Book 2 hits in May).
So what’s the one lesson to remember here? Saving the universe is going to take all kinds – aliens and all, ahem!
Readers: Middle Grade