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‘Area 51 Interns: Alien Summer’ and the challenges of losing touch

‘Area 51 Interns: Alien Summer’ by James Murray and Carsen Smith explores how we deal with friendships before losing touch

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Book cover for “Area 51 Interns: Alien Summer.”

The book cover for “Area 51 Interns: Alien Summer” by James Murray and Carsen Smith.


James Murray grew up with his three friends — Joe, Sal and Quinn — on Staten Island. They went to high school together. But, like many others around the world, they lost touch when they all went to separate colleges.

This happens all the time.

Middle school friends separated by different high schools.

High school classmates broken up by new college experiences.

College graduates losing touch when entering the real world.

For Murray — who goes by “Murr” — the end result wasn’t too bad. He and his aforementioned friends became stars of a reality television show called “Impractical Jokers,” in which they play pranks on each other and random passersby in malls, food courts and on the streets of New York City.

But that struggle — that fear — of losing your loved ones due to changes in life is very real, and it’s something Murray knew he wanted to explore deeply in his new novel series with comedian Carsen Smith, titled “Area 51 Interns: Alien Summer,” which debuted on March 15.

“It’s their summer between their eighth grade and high school freshman year, which is a tough summer because, you know, if you’re going to see your grammar school friends anymore, they’ve got to move on to different schools. It can be a nerve-wracking summer for kids,” he said.

Murray is used to pulling pranks and playing practical jokes on people on the show “Impractical Jokers.” So it’s not impractical for him to have his own wacky novel series about young adults discovering aliens.

“Area 51 Interns” follows young Viv Harlow, a middle-schooler who wants a relaxing summer with friends before they journey off to high school. She doesn’t even want to spend time with her mother, who works at Area 51 (yes, really).

On the last day of school, all the kids are told to visit a parent’s workplace. So all of the friends head to Area 51. The location is a massive terrarium. It’s got everything you’d want from Area 51. Aliens. Time travel. Mythical creatures.

Soon enough, everything goes haywire. All of the adults are kidnapped, and Viv has to team up with her friends Charlotte, Ray and Elijah (who is also, sorta, kinda, maybe her crush) to protect a baby alien.

On the surface, “Area 51 Interns: Alien Summer” is a young adult science fiction novel about friends coming together. But it also explores that real struggle we have all experienced — preparing for a new step in life. In this case, it’s preparing for high school.

It’s something all adults have had to deal with. Your high school sweetheart travels to California while you go to college in North Carolina. Or your best friend elects to stay behind in your hometown while you venture off to North Dakota.

We lose touch.

Social media has made it easier, sure. But it’s not a perfect answer to staying in touch and reuniting with friends. It’s a struggle we all have to learn to live with and one that Murray and Smith hone in on in this new novel.

“Area 51 Interns: Alien Summer” in itself is a coming together of past alliances. Murray penned the novel with another colleague, Carsen Smith, a comedy writer and screenwriter. She’s also a “Jeopardy!” champion — read more about that here — and has worked with Murray for years to develop this novel series.

And it’s only the first of several planned books as it’s the beginning of a trilogy. The next book will focus on mythical creatures — including a yeti and a chupacabra. The third book will focus on time travel.

“Every single book is its own standalone adventure,” Murray said.

“But of course, there are through lines that carry us from book to book,” he added. “The characters are the same as they get to learn about themselves and their friendships and overcome problems. Same characters but a different tale. Every single book.”

The novel is also packed with little easter eggs for “Impractical Jokers” fans, including descriptions and character names.

“This is just a fun, funny read. And it’s a great read for parents and their kids together,” he said.

Murray — unlike Viv and her friends — has seen what can happen over the long-term with your high school friends. Sometimes you do come back together. Sometimes time apart only lasts a short while.

“That transition from eighth grade to high school, or high school to college, is nerve-racking,” he said. “I honestly thought I would never see my best friends again. You know, who knows where they would move after college and what their jobs would be.

“Destiny ended up bringing us back together to make comedy, so there you go.”