Monday, February 7, 2022

Light Years From Home, by Mike Chen (author), Emily Woo Zeller (narrator)

Harlequin Audio, ISBN 97814884213434, January 2022

Fifteen years ago, the Shao family suffered a complicated tragedy. The family, or rather Arnold Shao and the three kids, twins Jakob and Kassie, and younger sister Evie, go on a trip to a cabin by a lake. The real purpose of the trip is for Arnold to have yet another Serious Talk with Jakob, trying to get him to get his act together, and stop goofing off and get serious about his college education. Sophia, Arnold's wife and the mother of their three children, refuses to go because she believes the result won't be any different than previous attempts. 

It is different, but not in the way Arnold intended. Jakob and Arnold get kidnapped by aliens. Jakob is being recruited for the war against the Awakened; Arnold was just standing too close to him at the time. A few days later, Arnold reappears, but with no real memory of what happened.

Arnold is convinced it was aliens, and he did manage to bring back an object that is clearly manufactured, but has no obvious use. He, and younger daughter Evie, become absorbed in investigating possible alien sightings and contacts. Sophia and older daughter Kassie, Jakob's twin sister, are very opposed to this, convinced that irresponsible Jakob has simply taken off, to live his imagined, care-free, drug-taking life.

A few weeks later, Arnold goes off to the lake again, doesn't come back, and after a bit is found dead. It's at this point that the family truly breaks. Kassie, at some point becoming simply Kass, sets out on the path that leads to her becoming a therapist, marrying and then divorcing from a French doctor while remaining friends with him, and staying home with Sophia. Evie abandons her pursuit of becoming a scientist, joins a UFO group that is focused on collecting real data from sightings and apparent encounters, and gets a job as a vet tech in Buffalo, NY--the other side of the country from Kass and Sophia. They rarely even talk; they never visit.

Fifteen years later, Evie's UFO network contacts her about an incident in the same place Jakob disappeared. The evidence looks nearly identical. Is Jakob back?

He is, but he's still on a mission, and in perfect circumstances wouldn't have made contact with his family at all.

Evie would rather not have made contact with Kass at all, but since she's going back to look for evidence, hopefully, of Jakob, it only makes sense to stay at the family house to save limited funds.

Kass would rather refuse contact with either or both. She's very judgmental about their leaving her behind to, eventually, take care of their mother Sophia, who has been sliding into dementia for the last three years. Kass and Evie last talked when Evie called two years ago; Kass didn't tell her that their mother has dementia. Kass resents her for not being there to help...

Kass uses her skills and knowledge as a therapist with everyone but herself and her own family.

Meanwhile, Jakob's mission is vital. The Awakening are not good guys. They seek out planetary civilizations about to reach takeoff into exploration outside their own solar systems, take what's useful to them in that world's technology, and then reduce everything else, including the people, to raw materials. Jakob has emerged from his unit's most recent clash with the Awakened as the sole survivor, but also with information that could turn the tide of the war--if he can get it back to them. That's his main goal, and meeting Evie is an inconvenient accident. Going back to the family home is mainly an effort to find the resources he needs to fix the damaged equipment he needs in order to contact the Seven Bells fleet for pickup.

This is a science fiction novel, yes, but it's very much about family and relationships, and a broken family and its damaged members trying to heal. All the main characters have real flaws, but also real strengths and virtues. I was hooked at the very beginning, and could not stop till I was done.


I bought this audiobook.

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