A few weeks ago, I managed to nab a proof copy of Janet Edwards’ debut from Janet’s editor. I’ve been Twitter friends with Janet for a few months and really liked the sound of her book. But there’s always a bit of trepidation when you finally read a book by someone you know, because you worry it’ll not be your cup of tea. But, luckily, that was not the case with Earth Girl.
I’ll try to keep the spoilers to a minimum, but the basic set-up is that, 700-odd years from now, humans have managed inter-planet portals and are scattered across the universe on various planets. However, a very small percentage of the population cannot portal offworld, and they are known as the Handicapped, sometimes called the more unsavoury names of a throwback, a nean (neanderthal), or an ape. These Handicapped have to live on Earth.
Earth Girl is interesting in that it’s sort-of a dystopia, but not really. Life as a Handicapped is not bad, but it is limited. Many children have been abandoned by their parents are are raised by ProMums or ProDads, psychologists carefully making sure their wards are mentally stable. They have limited career choices.
Jarra, an Earth Girl, is bitter at her lot and decides to join a non-Earth school, the University of Asgard, for the foundation history course, which is set on Earth. This has not been done before. She tells no one at the new school that she’s actually been on Earth all along, inventing a fake backstory as a child of Military parents. She anticipates showing them she’s just as good as the “exos” and then yelling at them and going back to her own life, smug at pulling the wool over their eyes. But then she realises that things are not going according to plan.
Jarra throws herself into this new life, rising to the rank of tag leader on the dig sites of the ruins of long-abandoned New York. She discovers more about her parents and grandparents and tries to ignore her attraction to a boy, Fian, whom she thinks would never accept her as just an ape girl.
Jarra is a strong heroine, though she is almost unbelievably good at everything–there are no challenges for her on the coursework and at times it’s like she’s teaching it, versus her teacher Playdon. Her main challenge is keeping her lies straight. She’s smart and capable and doesn’t take anything from anyone, but when she receives some shocking news, she’s thrown through a loop to an extent that she doesn’t quite realise.
The prose has a genuine teenage voice–it sounds like a long diary from an 18-year-old girl, peppered with slang terms and the blithe self-centeredness of youth. Sometimes, Jarra seems to skip over emotional points in the story where I would have liked to have seen more depth, such as her first kiss with a certain someone. It could just be that Jarra is uncomfortable discussing these things and this is why she remains vague.
Overall Earth Girl is a fun, quick science fiction read, with a well-realised world, lots of action, and some fun characters. It stands on its own quite nicely, and I do wonder if we’ll hear more from Jarra or perhaps another character in this universe down the line. Earth Girl will be published in August, 2012.
Rating: 4.5 stars
This review is crossposted to Goodreads.