Light Years From Home by Mike Chen is a family drama with science fiction flavor. If you’re looking for hard sci-fi with intricately plotted space escapades, this is not the book for you. What this book is instead is a very real, intimate tale of a family with a lot of issues - only one of which is aliens.
The Shao family was always a little dysfunctional, but the real turning point in their lives is when Jakob Shao goes missing for 15 years. Jakob’s father claims that he was abducted by aliens and hopes to bring him home. Little sister Evie is drawn into this “conspiracy,” working with other UFO experts and hoping to find her brother. But Jakob’s twin sister Kass is not convinced. She knows her brother was always a bit of a screw-up and assumes he’s galivanting around Europe and doing a lot of drugs.
The story is told from the shifting perspective of all three siblings, starting with Jakob’s return to Earth. While he’s trying to fight a galactic war, the sisters are more concerned with their Earthly family and the drama that comes with Jakob’s return. One of the most interesting parts of this book is attempting to figure out what’s really happening - Jakob’s space escapades are presented as fact in his chapters, but Kass doesn’t believe him and makes her own convincing arguments about delusions of grandeur and mental illness. It leaves you questioning the truth and wondering whether any of our three narrators are truly reliable.
This book has a lot of heart. Each character has massive issues, and sometimes I wanted to scream at them, but at the same time their issues all felt very realistic. It made me think a lot about how everyone in the world has their own trials - while some problems may seem small when compared to Jakob’s situation with the fate of the universe, each problem is still important to whoever is facing it.
Chen deftly weaves between present-day and flashback in a way that feels natural and unobtrusive. While the science-fiction parts of the book were slightly half-baked, I think that was the intention - at its core, Light Years From Home is a story about family.