My Life Among Humans by Jed McGowan follows a lonely and misguided invading alien who tries to navigate a life hidden among humans. McGowan twists the typical alien invasion story and instead focuses on the perspective of the alien, a one-eyed bio-engineered creature with no body and 6 legs who also happens to be desperately lonely.
Alien invasions are a ubiquitous plot in popular media. These stories with strong themes of fear and suspicion are common in books, television, and film. The majority of these focus on “the other,” a manifestation of societal fears of the unknown. Even in stories where the aliens are redeemed by the end, there are usually strong undercurrents of fear and suspicion before the final resolution. That exists in My Life Among Humans, however, it is not central to the story. Instead, rather than breaking down fear, McGowan’s plot builds empathy.
I’m a sucker for redemptive arcs and misguided innocence, and well, any story that flips conventional stories. I just really loved this book. The unnamed alien has been sent to earth and assigned to study humans. It begins by sending a spore into the mind of Will, a high school boy, to observe and record his every thought, movement and emotion. Then its daily observations are sent to “the manager” who merely states, “report received.” Every day follows the same pattern until the alien is eventually asked to observe more humans, and things begin to swerve from its established plan and mission.
The alien is lonely, desperate to please (or at least not upset) its manager, and tries hard to follow its instructions – to stay hidden and merely observe. But it is curious, and lonely, and is eventually caught by Will. Desperate to fix the situation, the alien, in a panic, discovers its ability to control Will, and by extension other humans. This leads to a cascading series of unfortunate events, where the alien is left trying to pick up the pieces and cover its tracks.
McGowan’s illustrations add emotional depth to this story. At first appearance, McGowan’s visual style doesn’t match my personal preferences. His hand-drawn illustrations are reminiscent of both vintage science fiction and early computer animation, appropriately connected to the visual style of many other alien stories. The real beauty in the illustrations is his ability to capture emotion. Illustrators rely heavily on facial expressions and body language to express emotion, however, this story has unique challenges. The alien has essentially no body or face, just one eye, and tentacle-like legs. Yet, the alien’s character is developed through its emotional responses. Its loneliness, fear, innocence, and curiosity are clearly evident in every panel.
McGowan also expertly illustrates the moments his human characters lose control of their bodies. Their emotions aren’t lacking, they have been lost, a loss that is felt in the illustrations.
Upon my reread of My Life Among Humans to write this review, I fell in love again. It has emotional weight, and after each read, I walked away with a warmed heart. I recommend it for adult and teen graphic novel collections. However, I also think this could be popular with middle-grade and younger teens. The story would be appropriate for younger audiences, and the illustration style would not feel overwhelming for those who are newly introduced to the format. I will purchase (and heavily recommend) it for my high school collection. I think the initial interest will be from younger high school readers but the story has heart and poses a number of interesting philosophical questions, which will appeal to older readers as well.
My Life Among Humans
By Jed McGowan
Oni Press, 2023
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13)