Revised Summer Stack: everyone’s an aliebn when ur an aliebn too

I have never encountered a book quite like Jomny Sun’s latest work. I picked it up from the Sioux Falls Barnes and Noble for two reasons: (1) I follow Jomny on Twitter, and I think he says good things; (2) Lin-Manuel Miranda’s endorsement of the book is on the back cover…and so is Patton Oswalt’s and Joss Whedon’s. I spent about thirty minutes wandering around the B&N stacks before giving up and asking an employee, who looked only mildly frustrated when I disclosed the title of what I was searching for. (“What was the rest of it? When You’re An Alie…bn?” “Yeah, but it’s u-r. ur.”) I got the last copy the store had in stock – way to go, Jomny! – and immediately went home and read.

It felt like it took me longer to find the book in the store than it did for me to sit down and read it (and then spend a little bit of time crying over it). You see, it felt that way for a couple of reasons, the first being that the book is illustrated, so the pages (panels?) actually go by rather quickly. The second is that once I got a few pages/panels in, I did not want to put the damn thing down. I was hooked. Then I was shook. It’s rare for me to find a book that pulls me in that fast and that intensely. (The only other one I can think of off the top of my head was Woolf’s The Waves.)

Warning: here be spoilers.

everyone’s an aliebn is the story of an “aliebn” named Jomny, who is sent to Earth to study “humabns” and report back to his peers. What Jomny finds, however, are not humabns as the reader might understand them, but rather a panoply of plant and animal life who, through misspelled conversations with Jomny, actually end up teaching him (and the reader) a whole lot about what humanity is and means. From the egg who doesn’t know what he will become, to the birds who think the sun is a giant lentil in the sky, to the hedgehog who strives to establish his artistic identity, to the Nothing who just wants to be noticed (“Nothing matters!”), aliebn-Jomny learns about acceptance, love, and, perhaps most importantly, friendship.

A few lines that made me feel things:

+ “everybody tells me i am too small and too slow to make a diference in this world but i am makimg a diference in my own world and i hope that is enough”

+ “oh no! a ghobst! please dont haunt me i dont want to be afraid” “umm i literally experienced the horrors of death so maybe this isnt abot you”

+ “lets just be thankful that we get to be on earth at the same time as everybody we get to meet”

+ “look. life is bad. everyones sad. we’re all gona die. but I alredy bought this inflatable boumcy castle so are u gona take ur shoes off or wat”

Something that I felt worked really well in everyone’s an aliebn was its illustration style. I’ve read a good number of graphic novels before, and have been amazed by the wide range of intricate drawing styles I’ve seen. I don’t know what kind of style I was expecting here, but what I was pleasantly surprised by its simplicity. It’s all in black and white, no fill or shading, so there are a few panels that look like coloring-book pages. (My mom asked if people do color their copies, and I’ve found some really beautiful colorings of the pages on Twitter. Sun approves of them all, so I guess it’s cool to do.) I want to stress that when I use words like “simple” or “child-like,” I’m not using them as put-downs. In fact, I think the child-like qualities of aliebn-Jomny’s conversations with the plants and animals of Earth is enhanced by the simple illustrations. It all evokes these big feelings of wonder, curiosity, and discovery that I personally feel I’ve lost as I’ve grown up. That’s why this book made me cry – it brought me back to that youthful place where I was navigating the same kinds of conversations aliebn-Jomny had on Earth. Conversations like, “what will I be tomorrow?” or “what happens when we die?” or “what is a friend?”

Sun’s book held my hand, gave it a lil squeeze, and guided me back to a long-forgotten place in my heart and mind that I didn’t know how much I needed at this point in my life. It reminded me that I still have time to wonder.

And what a beautiful thing that is.


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