Earthling has just what I like in a graphic novel: colorful, vibrant art and a story to match. Nine year old Bud moves with his dad to a new home, and he's pretty nervous about it, particularly his first day at his new school. Little does he know that he is in for a first day unlike any other...
While waiting at the bus stop, Bud mistakenly boards a bus on its way to outer space school: Cosmos Academy, to be specific. At Cosmos, alien kids from all manner of planets intermingle - all planets except Earth, that is. Bud quickly learns that the aliens at Cosmos all believe Earthlings are the terror of the galaxy, and the principal in particular has a vendetta against them. Bud quickly befriends an alien named Gort, who keeps his secret and tells him to pretend to be a Tenarian, a race of aliens that are more reclusive.
Bud and his new friend concoct a plan to get him back home, which involves winning the school's Zero-Ball competition so they can hop a ride back into space on their way to the finals and hopefully catch a ship back to Earth. Amid this main storyline, Bud also has to contend with bullies, the suspicion of the principal, and the fear that he will give himself away as an Earthling.
I loved how much fun Fearing had with both the story and the art. With so many different alien cultures as his disposal, he could be really creative with the way the aliens look and how they interact. (One alien race molts periodically and it causes a minor crisis for a Zero-Ball team.) He also clearly enjoyed creating fun, out there (pun intended) school rules. (When a child is expelled, he or she is placed in suspended animation.)
Fearing treads a lot of old ground (the underdogs try to win a special alien sport; a fish out of water has to find his way home) and some of the plot devices are obviously there just to keep the story moving (a basic piece of technology allows all aliens to understand each other), but it doesn't really matter. There's action and humor and pathos and all the other good stuff that is integral to a successful story. And have I mentioned how much I love the art? Fearing creates terrific facial expressions, and his aliens have tentacles and lots of eyes and all manner of oddities that make you want to look and look again.
This is a good pick for your reluctant readers for sure, and it's a pretty substantial book, so it feels like a real accomplishment to finish it. I read this on the heels of Legends of Zita the Spacegirl and I think they're good readalikes - they both have just the right amount of space wackiness coupled with an ordinary kid who becomes extraordinary.