Review: The Alienation of Courtney Hoffman

Let me preface this review with the following statement: I read a fair bit of YA.

There are a couple of reasons for this. 1) I have a teenager. I like to know what she is reading about. 2) Story arcs for YA characters tend to be pretty interesting. YA characters tend to have more interesting experiences that change them than characters in adult books (in my very humble opinion). Cassie in The 5th Wave has to deal with aliens terminating her species. A in Every Day wakes up every day in a different person and has to figure out how to navigate not only his/her own life, but that of the stranger’s body he/she is in. There are of course always exceptions to the rule (hello Twilight).

Courtney Hoffman thinks she is going mad. She is visited at night by aliens, who terrify her. Her mother warns her that mental health is a slippery slope and she doesn’t want to end up like her grandfather. Courtney has fond memories of her grandfather, who died when she was seven, but she has terrifying flashbacks to the night that his friends came over and gave her a creepy tattoo, and after his alarm system is tripped by something unseen, he tried to drown her.

Courtney’s mother and her new boyfriend have her committed to a psych ward to try to help her with her issues. Here, she meets Agatha, who validates her alien experiences – her brother has had these too. Together the girls go on an adventure which includes aliens, dodgy medical professionals, and a secretive organisation of Magi.

courtney hoffman

In the acknowledgements the author notes that he doesn’t know a lot about teenage girls. Unfortunately I think this is pretty obvious from the writing. The first half of the book is pretty choppy, although it does settle down once the action starts. (Yikes!)

The biggest difference I noticed with this book is that most of the description is of the external world. The descriptions of Courtney’s internal world are no where near as interesting as what’s going on in the action sequences, and for a book with a tribute to mental health sufferers, these should be at least on an equal footing. (Whoa!)

The main character and the writing seem pitched more at middle school readers than a YA audience (although there is some low level swearing and a couple of f-bombs). There are a few things early in the plot line that stretch the imagination too far (like a doctor providing  a service to a 15 year old without parental consent or a whisper about health insurance).

My teen does tend to read above her age level, but she wouldn’t enjoy this. (I got her to read the opening chapters to confirm my suspicions. I won’t repeat her opinions, but they were not complimentary). Courtney doesn’t have the emotional development to hold her interest. There are lots of pithy italicised exclamations, and Courtney says “Yikes” so frequently I felt like I was being thrown back into reruns of Scooby Doo. Perhaps she is the love child of Shaggy and Velma. (What??)

Once the action starts the style settles into itself and it is a good action story with some funny moments (which was a welcome relief from the tortured hair pulling of the first half). While I am loathe to suggest such a thing exists, I suspect this is more of a ‘boy’ book (ie action, things blowing up, no kissing or emotional stuff) rather than a ‘girl’ book (character development, emotional reflection, focus on relationships, things blowing up).

The Alienation of Courtney Hoffman is out now.

2.5 out of  5 italicised exclamations.
















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