Jennifer Chan Is Not Alone is very experimental in the way its lens plays with the reader’s perceptions throughout the story. The character through whom we experience the sleepy town of Nowhereville, 13-year-old Mallory Moss, arguably isn’t the protagonist of this story. The character arc she undergoes as the story progresses is very nonlinear due to the nature of the storytelling. Told in flashbacks from days leading up to "The Incident," while switching to its aftermath (in the present), Mallory attempts to find her missing friend with the help of ex-friends Ingrid and Kath.
When Jennifer goes missing, the entire town is shaken up. Mallory, our narrator, is at the heart of the tragedy. The book starts out framing Mallory as a popular girl at the top of her middle school social hierarchy, with Reagan and Tess as her closest friends. As both plot lines progress, however, Keller’s clever narrative choices carefully examine themes of change, social structures, bullying, and friendship through a realistic, honest point of view. The storyline leading up to "The Incident" starts when Jennifer Chan moves into the house across the street. Mallory’s lens through which she views the world shifts. Jennifer Chan is, as the book describes her, extraterrestrial. Mallory befriends her when she first moves to Nowhereville, but soon feels like she is forced to cut her off in order to maintain her perception in school.
Mallory brings her past decisions to light and navigates her friendships with Ingrid and Kath, Reagan and Tess, but more specifically, her short-lived initial friendship with Jennifer, the titular character of the story, who believes we are not alone in our existence. She believes there are aliens somewhere, out there, and we learn about her backstory through snippets of her diary, titled “Jennifer Chan’s Guide To The Universe, Vol 1. through 7.”
Jennifer Chan Is Not Alone is an incredibly relatable and gripping mystery/middle school drama that uses its narrator to weave together a story about self-identity, and I found myself and my friends throughout the pages of the book. I would highly recommend this book to anyone and everyone.
Jennifer Chan Is Not Alone by Tae Keller. Random House Books for Young Readers, 2022. Buy the book here and help support Stone Soup in the process!