The Lily Cafe is thrilled for the opportunity to participate in the book blog tour for Light Years From Home by Mike Chen! This is yet another beautiful soft science fiction novel. Want to know more about it? Head over to Tessa Talks Books to enjoy an excerpt.
Title: Light Years From Home
Author: Mike Chen
Publisher: MIRA Books
Publication date: January 25, 2022
Genre: Science Fiction
Back again with his trademark “sci fi with feelings,” Mike Chen brings us a Space Opera/Family Drama mash-up. When Jakob Shao reappears after fifteen missing years, he brings turmoil to his sisters, Kass and Evie, and intergalactic war on his heels.
Every family has issues. Most can’t blame them on extraterrestrials.
Fifteen years ago while on a family camping trip, Jakob Shao and his father vanished. His father turned up a few days later, dehydrated and confused, but convinced that they’d been abducted by aliens. Jakob remained missing.
The Shao sisters, Kass and Evie, dealt with the disappearance end ensuing fallout in very different ways. Kass over the years stepped up to be the rock of the family: carving a successful path for herself, looking after the family home, and becoming her mother’s caregiver when she starts to suffer from dementia. Evie took her father’s side, going all in on UFO conspiracy theories, and giving up her other passions to pursue the possible truth of life outside our planet. And always looking for Jakob.
When atmospheric readings from Evie’s network of contacts indicate a disturbance event just like the night of the abduction, she heads back home. Because Jakob is back. He’s changed, and the sisters aren’t sure what to think. But one thing is certain — the tensions between the siblings haven’t changed at all. Jakob, Kass and Evie are going to have to grow up and sort out their differences, and fast. Because the FBI is after Jakob, and possibly an entire alien armada, too.
Light Years From Home is about a family that has been fractured since the disappearance of Jakob. With his reappearance, the past comes rushing back, and so do all the negative emotions and thoughts tied up with him. But his reappearance, no matter how desperate he is to get back to where he came from, offers hope to his family, and I really loved how this is more a story of family than it is about an intergalactic war. There’s a large psychology piece to this story that I really loved, and I enjoyed how it twisted everything in the middle so I really had no idea where the story was going. There are high stakes and enemies coming after them, but, through it all, Light Years From Home manages to be a beautiful story of family and understanding oneself.
The Shao family hasn’t been the same since Jakob vanished with his father 15 years ago, and only his dad returned. Left to pick up the pieces, sisters Kassie, who is also Jakob’s twin sister, and Evie, their younger sister, set themselves on different tracks. With their father’s obsession over finding Jakob and trying to figure out how to use a piece of alien technology, nothing is ever quite the same and an already fractured family threatens to break further.
Fifteen years later, Kassie is a psychologist living with her mother who is slowly descending deeper into dementia. Evie is a vet tech on the other side of the country working with a group called the Reds who investigates anything alien-related. When data suggests Jakob might be back, Evie decides to travel back home, unprepared and not at all ready for the family reunion about to happen that could break them forever or finally heal them.
The thing I love most about Mike Chen’s books is just how much humanness and heart is in them. Light Years From Home is no exception and really focused on family. While I wasn’t really into the fact that this one has aliens and alien abduction, I found it wasn’t really focused on that as much as I expected. This novel is almost completely set on Earth and mostly swirls around one family and how alien abduction impacted them. It’s beautiful and heartfelt with a lot of pain under the surface, and the ending, while I wanted just a little more, was absolutely perfect and fitting for the family.
Light Years From Home focuses on the Shao family: Mom and Dad (Sofia and Arnold), Kassie, Jakob, and Evie. There are also some other fun characters, like Evie’s friend Layla from the Reds who tells some punny science jokes and Mom’s caretaker Lucy. But it really focuses on the Shao family and how Jakob’s sudden disappearance impacted them for 15 years. It was great to see how they were split between believing the best and the worst of Jakob and how it splintered them. Their family was fractured and seriously hurting and even I had my doubts as to whether or not they could pull together and do something about Jakob’s reappearance and what it means for an intergalactic war they know nothing of.
Most of Light Years From Home is told by Kassie and Evie. As Jakob’s sisters, they have vastly different views and memories of him. I really liked how they knocked heads over it and how it further rent the family in half. But they’re deeper than that. Both have their own underlying issues that have built up over the years as their brother’s disappearance took their toll on them, and it was fun to see it play out. The sisters are very different from each other, practically opposites, but family is family. I loved how achingly awkward and difficult their reunion was and there were so many steps backwards and forwards, but they really did feel like real sisters to me. I liked that Kassie, as the oldest, suddenly took responsibility and just shouldered everything without any discussion and I liked that Evie held such hope and optimism. Watching them dance around each other was wonderful and just felt so full of heart that they couldn’t be anything but family that still loves each other.
Jakob’s story wasn’t as full as I had hoped or expected, but, considering I’m not a fan of aliens and his story line is the one that involves aliens, I did end up enjoying it. I liked that the reader gets to know him from before his disappearance through his sisters, and then the reader is put into his perspective and suddenly things look a little different and there’s a lot more to him than meets the eye. I liked him, but was also kind of frustrated with him and the things he did even if they did make sense. His is also the perspective I wanted more from, but I think much more might have watered down the story too much, taking away from the story of the sisters and one family trying to mend itself.
But my favorite part was the mental health piece. Since my own background is in psychology, I really liked that Kassie is a psychologist and her work came into play several times throughout the story. It clouded some of what she did and sometimes I wished she could just calm down, but she always felt like she was an inch away from just blowing up for most of the book, which was fun and had me keeping a wary eye on her. Anyways, I really liked that it came in handy and played well into the family dynamics. It made the whole middle part both really wonderful and kind of a let down. But I loved how it made me question everything from the characters to the story. I also really liked the portrayal of dementia. It’s confusing and disorienting and so tough and I felt Light Years From Home really captured it well. I also liked that the way it was handled at the end wasn’t jarring, but made sense and really added something lovely to the family.
The story itself is about the intergalactic war Jakob is involved in and his overwhelming need to just get back and the impact his disappearance had on his family. Every step of the way, I felt Jakob’s need, but I also felt those strong, but strained family bonds. While Jakob’s story really drove the plot and kept it moving, Light Years From Home is really about the family. I loved how broken it was, how strained their relationships were, and how, despite that, the story was able to reach the kind of beautiful and soft ending I’ve come to expect from Chen’s novels. It’s a beautiful story of family.
Light Years From Home certainly had it’s slow and not quite as interesting parts, but the raw human emotions, the hope, the despair, really kept me hooked. It offers a story of family wrapped up in alien abduction, intergalactic wars, and a desperate father. I loved almost everything about it, but I really loved how heartfelt and human Chen’s novels are, and I especially loved the focus on family instead of the aliens.
How many cups of tea will you need?
About Mike Chen
Mike Chen is the author of the award-nominated Here And Now And Then and featured in Star Wars: From A Certain Point Of View—The Empire Strikes Back. He has covered geek culture for sites such as Tor.com, The Mary Sue, and StarTrek.com and used to cover the NHL for Fox Sport and other outlets. A member of SFWA, Mike lives in the Bay Area with his wife, daughter, and rescue animals.
Connect with Mike Chen
Thank you to Justine Sha at MIRA for a review copy and the opportunity to take part in the book blog tour for Light Years From Home. All opinions expressed are my own.