Rolo the Pet Earthling
by Hans Ness
Booklife by Publishers Weekly

Ness’s whimsical sci-fi debut blends spirited shenanigans with a wacky world. On planet Blorx, Zira, a young, green alien with two antennae, adopts an adorable little earthling boy she names Rolo. Like any typical pet, Rolo learns to use a litter box, eats from his personal food bowl, and cowers in fear at the mere sight of the robo-vacuum. Life is perfect, until Rolo starts to grow up and wonder where he came from. After a day at the park spirals into a daring escape evading robot “earthling catchers,” Rolo gets lost—launching both him and Zira into a journey of self-discovery, filled with humor, adventure, and heart.

Ness brilliantly creates a charming, goofy world perfect for younger audiences. Planet Blorx features a variety of humorous creatures, such as the kiffy, who curls onto laps and makes a “chortling” sound if they like their owner, and Rolo’s pet quagling, a lovable creature with two arms, three legs, and one yellow eye. Ness leans into the delightful playfulness of earthling pet ownership, noting such details as the rivalry between earthlings and squirrels and how some earthlings train as championship “show earthlings.” These humorous elements captivate readers’ imaginations and set a lighthearted tone, but there is a deeper message to this joyful adventure.

The central characters’ emotional journey is stirring. Zira’s struggle to maintain a strong bond with her older sister after a family fracture sets the stage for the young alien to explore her loneliness and frustration, while Rolo, longing for independence and information about his origins, matures while learning to stand up for his needs. Their adversity teaches the value of altruism and truly listening to others—and portrays the comfort that good friendships can bring. Middle-grade readers eager to explore an imaginative new world of aliens, adventure, and affection will delight in this fun-spirited sci-fi.

Takeaway: Earthlings make remarkable pets for aliens in this lively sci-fi adventure.

Comparable Titles:
Geoff Rodkey’s We’re Not From Here
Bruce Coville’s Sixth-Grade Alien series
Midwest Book Review
D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer

Rolo the Pet Earthling turns ideas of aliens, humans, and pets upside down as it presents the story of a human boy who grows up being alien Zira’s pet, but then begins to wonder about his origins.

Advanced elementary to middle-grade readers will find Rolo’s story a compelling take on the usual pet or alien fantasy when Rolo’s self-inspection is sparked by an animal rights protest:

Until this moment, he had never really wondered why he was a pet. All his life, he had been a pet. And all the other earthlings too. And all the generations before them, and before them. But was it always that way? Why did no one ever talk about that? Was it a secret?

The adventure unfolds as Rolo escapes, uncovers the truth about his origins and status, and then faces some difficult decisions about how he wants to live.

On her own mission to find her pet before the earthling-catchers do, Zira finds her life and perspective changed, as well, by her relationship with Rolo and the reality of his world.

Hans Ness crafts an intriguing adventure, while illustrator Sofia Komarenko peppers the story with colorful embellishments to add further value and attraction to the engaging, creative tale.

Rolo’s probe of his past reveals many thought-provoking questions about animals, pets, rights, and wrongs that will also lend to important discussions in classrooms and between adults and kids.

Libraries and readers won’t want to miss Rolo’s adventures. They are heartwarming, fun, and thought-provoking:

“Cut the Leash!” He looked up wistfully at the bright star, the one he imagined was Earth. He now felt foolish to think he could go there. Earth might not be real. Or it might be an awful place. And how would he even get there? Or find it? He had gotten his hopes up for nothing. And he didn’t even know about Earth until today, so why was it suddenly so important?
Kirkus Reviews

In Ness’s debut middle-grade novel, an alien keeps a human as a pet.

Zira, a young, green-skinned “blorxling” with antennae, has “been begging her mom for decades” for a pet. She asks her older brother, Lazro, to convince their mother to let her get an earthling. Lazro does so, but keeps it a secret, as does Riffa, Zira’s older sister. Zira is surprised with an earthling named Rolo, who’s content in his situation. He’s fed “goopy food” and walks his own tiny green pet, Quiggles. One day, Rolo sees “animal rights activists” with signs saying that “Earthlings Have Rights Too.” He wonders: Were there always earthlings on Blorx? Later, he asks his earthling friends, “don’t you ever wonder if maybe there’s something more?” He unintentionally draws the attention of earthling catchers (“Animal Control Force”) for violating a civil regulation that “requires earthlings to be under direct supervision of their owners or wranglers at all times in public.” Rolo flees, but the earthling catchers, Zira, and Riffa chase after him; the chase gives readers an overview of Blorx and the military might of the Animal Control Force. Eventually, Rolo and company meet Grandam Zananna, a curator at a science museum who shares information about earthlings.

Young pet owners will easily understand moments that parallel how real-life human beings relate to their pets; early in the story, for instance, Rolo is pictured in a dark “cardboard box, with just a little ambient light shining from the twelve round air holes near the top.” Kids will be kept in suspense throughout Rolo’s adventures, however, and remain curious about his fate. Ness’ story has unimaginative details at times, as with place names such as “Blorfrica,” “Blurope,” and “Blasia.” However, Komarenko’s cartoon images will delight children with their colorful and creative renderings of blorxlings and other creatures.

A well-illustrated and often clever adventure with entertaining twists and turns.