Ambassador by William Alexander. Simon and Schuster, 2014.
Gabe Fuentes has discovered more about aliens in a single day than he had in his whole previous life. First, he learns that there is alien life in the universe – and the Envoy to Earth has decided that Gabe would be the ideal ambassador from Earth. That’s because Gabe is a second-generation Mexican-American, used to navigating between cultures, as well as being 11 years old and a middle child – old enough to have some sense, still young enough to be able to absorb very new ideas, and used to mediating the conflicts in his family.
Secondly, he learns that his parents are in the United States illegally, as is his teenage sister Lupe. It’s suddenly urgent news, because his father is now being jailed until he’s deported, and his mother and sister need to hide to stay safe. He and his twin toddler siblings, Noemi and Andrés, are the only US citizens, which suddenly puts him in charge of the safety of his whole family. As a parting gift, his father leaves Lupe and Gabe gifts: a homemade vajra hammer of wisdom and truth and the ancestral cane sword of Toledo steel.
Things are heating up on all fronts, as it looks like aliens are about to invade Earth. Gabe will have to meet the other ambassadors and learn how things work quickly. Unfortunately, he can’t seem to help drawing the attention of Omegan, the Outlast ambassador that everyone else is afraid of. That alone might make it difficult for him to build relationships with any of the other ambassadors.
There was so much great stuff in this book, as well as some not so good. I loved the idea of child ambassadors meeting on a giant playground, and playing with the idea of different kinds of aliens. I loved how Alexander fleshed out all of Gabe’s family, including details like how his parents met in India and how his father still sings Bollywood music while cooking. The details of the aliens, too, while clearly imagined, also fit with what we know of modern physics. A lot of fast, tense action with imploding houses, strong characters and world-building is all fit into a relatively short book – only 222 pages. This is both strength and the book’s biggest weakness. On the plus side, the short length makes it more approachable to reluctant readers, like my own son – and this book has so much in the way of both appeal and thoughts to keep chewing on that I’d really like him to read it. On the other hand, fitting all of that into such a short package means that something had to be left out, and in this case, what’s left out is any kind of resolution, even temporary, to the problem with Gabe’s own family, and only partial resolution to the alien problem. Clearly it’s the first book in a series, but the ending was awfully abrupt even so. My mother and I both loved it anyway – but if you or the kid in your life are apt to be upset by cliffhanger endings, you may want to hold off on reading this otherwise excellent book until the series is complete.