Two years ago, William Alexander's novel "Goblin Secrets" won the National Book Award for young people's literature. His new book, "Ambassador," is similar in that it's speculative, imaginative, yet grounded — fun and profound. It's different, too — set in a very prosaic Minneapolis rather than an ancient magic land. The hero is Gabe Fuentes, the young son of immigrants and not at all a magicky kind of guy.
Eleven-year-old Gabe is faced with two definitions of "alien": His imaginative chef father is caught and deported by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), and his mother and older sister are threatened with the same fate. At the same time, Gabe is, coincidentally, visited by an alien who has designated him as Earth's ambassador to a kind of grand interplanetary United Nations, where all the ambassadors are children, and where negotiation happens through the medium of games.
The two narratives are beautifully intertwined. Why people do what they do, and what fear can do to drive cruelty, are implied in the immigration story and elucidated in the interplanetary ambassador tale.
A master storyteller, Alexander handles all this so deftly and with such humor and understanding and superb inventiveness that while the book is a quick read — a page-turner — it sticks with you long after.
Ann Klefstad is a writer and artist in Duluth.