The Story: [from GoodReads:]
Caitlin is the only young person living on Middle Island. On the first day of vacation, she finds a tiny alien on the beach. Caitlin becomes close to her secret friend, whom she names Perijee, teaching him everything about her world and treating him like a brother. There’s only one problem: Perijee won’t stop growing. And growing . . . Caitlin will have to convince the adults around her—and Perijee himself—that the creature they see as a terrifying monster is anything but.
My Take: Isn’t a bit of a let down when you start reading a novel, assuming it’s going to be a certain type of story, only for it to turn into something that’s quite the contrary? Sadly, that’s what happened to me with this middle grade novel, and it wasn’t in a good way.
Perijee and Me opens with Caitlin, the young daughter of two inattentive parents, who lives on Middle Island and travels to the mainland just to go to school or encounter anyone else. Seeing as she’s the offspring of two famous scientists, Caitlin not only senses she has to live up to her parents’ expectations and achievements, she also feels estranged from her school chums (who are anything but chummy) because she doesn’t quite measure up. Her only friend is a kindly man who gives her boat rides to the mainland. But all of that changes when Caitlin discovers an odd, pale creature with gold symbols on his body. Later, she befriends the creature, christens him Perijee, and does her best to hide the alien from her parents as she tries to determine where he came from. Thus, the first chapters possess an enjoyably sweet, tranquil tone. Caitlin has Perijee’s best interests in mind, and watching the two interact and learn from one another is heartwarming.
So that’s naturally what I assumed this novel was going to be – a heartwarming, gentle story about a young girl who befriends an alien and tries to get him home, perhaps à la E.T. After all, what else could it be?
As expected, Perijee’s existence eventually fails to remain a secret, especially as he eats and grows at an alarming rate.
However, rather than retain its initial tone that evoked the waves serenely caressing the shores of Middle Island, the novel unleashes a tsunami of frantic pacing, abrupt set changes, and bizarre plot angles.
Naturally, after Perijee is discovered to be living with Caitlin and her mother, it doesn’t take long for the government to get involved, bursting into her home and trying to snatch poor (not-so) little Perijee away. But before they can lay hands on him, Perijee morphs into a Godzilla-sized monster and proceeds to lay waste to planet Earth – just because. In the meantime, Caitlin and her mother are taken to live in a special protective camp (as is everyone else on the whole planet, it seems), but Caitlin is certain that if she could just talk to Perijee, all will be right with the world. So she manages to sneak away from the camp; runs across some odd characters; encounters an all-female, murderous cult, and…well, you get the idea.
So in a nutshell, Perijee and Me is a strange little novel. Normally I like strange, but in order for strangeness to make sense in a story, the story itself, from the start, has to allow for the weird, the unusual, and the unexpected to occur. It’s like a typical Tim Burton movie: you know from the beginning the story is going to involve the strange, the peculiar, and the darkly comical. But because the film starts out with those elements and an appropriate tone in place, nothing that happens later on feels too bizarre or disjointed. By way of example, the movie Mars Attacks! opens with a flaming, rampaging herd of cattle, much to the horror of some on-lookers, as a silver UFO soars up into the sky. Right from this opening image, you know this is going to be a dark, quirky sci-fi tale and it keeps true to that premise the whole movie through.
However, in the case with Perijee and Me, the initial tone and setting give no indication that the novel takes a nosedive into the strange and nearly nonsensical. If such elements and a pertinent tone had been present from the start, then I don’t doubt this novel would have been easier for me to take. But when a story opens with scenes of a young girl enjoying a tranquil boat ride, crying because she doesn’t fit in at school, then later introduces an all-girls human-sacrificing cult, it’s a bit hard to mentally absorb. It’s like if Lilo and Stitch or E.T. were somehow spliced with Lovecraft-esque imagery and cults. Perhaps some readers might enjoy such a mashup but not me.
So, story-wise, this wasn’t for me and was simply too out there for me to enjoy. Not to mention the ending is a bit of a let down as everything wraps up too quickly and perkily, and Perijee’s origin story is less than stellar, shall we say.
This doesn’t mean I hated the book as it had a few redeeming points. Character-wise, I liked Caitlin and found her to be a caring, tenacious protagonist. Yes, she feels like a misfit but she eventually embraces it rather than wallow in self-pity. While she suffers from seeing herself as an underachiever, she never lets that slow her down. Overall, she’s a positive character who tries to act selflessly, especially towards Perijee. Other than Caitlin though, none of the other characters stood out to me because they were either tropes (such as the inattentive parent figure, akin to Coraline) or just too out there (such as the cult members). Overall, while Caitlin is far from unique, she’s at least likable and doesn’t act like a dumb kid.
I also liked the initial set up of Perijee, and it definitely emits some E.T. vibes. I love these types of alien/Human stories, and I sense I would have enjoyed this novel more had it retained this tone all throughout. Perijee doesn’t get much dialogue, but he comes across as a very endearing, childlike being who is confused both about life on Earth and his own origins. He’s not vindictive nor is he out to hurt anyone, but apparently fear causes him to do strange things, much like the way anger unleashes the Hulk. (Can someone say, “Perijee smash!”?)
As a whole, despite its occasionally bright moments, Perijee and Me was a letdown, and it pains me to say that as I had high expectations for it. But it starts as one type of story, one I was more than willing to get behind, and rapidly morphs into something completely different – but a little too different.
Language – Language is kept to a minimum and only minor PG-level words are uttered and sporadically at that.
Violence – Violence is non-graphic and more along the lines of depictions of peril and mayhem (think of the old Godzilla movies) as opposed to any on-page deaths. That being said, a strange cult is eventually introduced who worships the Perijee monster and, as part of their worship, are said to sacrifice humans (though the book never details these sacrifices).
Sexual Content – None, though one character may be transgender, depending on how you interpret some of his actions and his ability to disguise himself almost perfectly as a woman.
Overall, Perijee and Me is definitely a study in contrasts when compared to its sweet, serene cover and opening chapters. But much like Perijee himself, it morphs into an outlandish monster story that betrays its setup and blurb. I honestly wanted to like, even love, this little tale; however, its twists and turns into the outré, offsetting its peaceful beginnings, were enough to indefinitely derail my affections.