I Hope You Get This Message, Farah Naz Rishi (Harper Teen 978-0-06-274145-5, $17.99, 420pp, hc) October 2019.
It’s possibly the end of the world, according to the aliens threatening everyone on Earth, and three teens are grappling with what they want to get done in the seven days they have left. Cate wants to find the father she never knew, Adeem wants to find his beloved older sister, and Jesse wants to make enough money to change his life in case the world doesn’t end. Their three disparate stories converge in Roswell NM, longtime home to a uniquely American subculture, with unexpected connections appearing at just the right moment. How the teens come together is what author Farah Naz Rishi’s hopeful drama is all about, and the beauty of that journey is why I Hope You Get This Message is such a sweet read.
First, the alien threat is real. Rishi includes brief asides with the aliens throughout the narrative, as they argue for and against the rights of earthlings. While humanity is quick to panic (no surprise) when the alien threat is revealed, most people don’t know exactly what is happening. Rishi smartly leaves alone the big questions and global political response, focusing entirely on her three protagonists as they embark on their separate adventures. Cate and Adeem embark on road trips, trying to find their missing relatives, while Jesse stays in Roswell, consumed by the urgency of daily survival. Aliens are not the biggest threat in Jesse’s life; there are plenty of angry fists much closer to home that are determined to take him apart. He sees an opportunity in the possible end of the world – people are willing to pay a lot of money for dubious promises of hope when they believe they have no future. But there is a price to pay for taking advantage of others at their most vulnerable moment, and how Jesse learns that lesson, and the way it surprisingly involves Cate and Adeem, is the most powerful part of the novel’s final pages.
In many ways, I Hope You Get This Message is a traditional coming-of-age drama. All three of the teens are dealing with questions about who they are and who they want to become. They all have family issues to contend with (some more significant than others), and while the potential end of the world forces them to face their personal demons, it isn’t the most serious thing they have to worry about. Rishi does an excellent job of showing how an intergalactic threat might make for major action on the big screen, but in a thoughtfully written novel it is much more about personal crises. Cate, Adeem, and Jesse are complex and compelling characters who readers will increasingly care about as the narrative unfolds. Rishi’s tender novel embraces diversity and the power of love as the fate of the world hangs in the balance; it makes for a science fiction story that is grounded in the best sort of reality.
Colleen Mondor, Contributing Editor, is a writer, historian, and reviewer who co-owns an aircraft leasing company with her husband. She is the author of “The Map of My Dead Pilots: The Dangerous Game of Flying in Alaska” and reviews regularly for the ALA’s Booklist. Currently at work on a book about the 1932 Mt. McKinley Cosmic Ray Expedition, she and her family reside in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. More info can be found on her website: www.colleenmondor.com.
This review and more like it in the February 2020 issue of Locus.
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