Earth Girl by Janet Edwards (Pyr Books, March 5th, 2013)-It’s 2788 and Jarra has just turned 18. This means she’ll get to decide which course of study to pursue. There’s never been a question in Jarra’s mind as to what she wants to do with her life, however. She loves history, especially pre-history, which refers to the time before humans began making an exodus from Earth to other planets (around 2409, when the Earth data net failed.) Portal technology has been developed for interplanetary travel, but unfortunately, some people are born with the inability to survive on other planets. Technically, they’re Handicapped, but are also referred to as apes, or neans. Jarra is one such person. If she were to attempt to portal to another planet, she’d immediately go into anaphylactic shock and a quick death will follow without prompt treatment. Handicapped babies that are born on other planets are immediately portaled to Earth. Some norm parents give up their children and they are raised on Earth by ProMums and ProDads, who handle groups of children and guide them until they turn 18. Handicapped kids are given the choice, at age 14, to find out about their real parents, but Jarra has chosen not to do this so far. Jarra is close to her ProMum, Candace, and loves her best friend Issette, but she’s eager to move on to bigger things. When she tells Candace of her plans to apply to University Asgard, an offworld history course. Luckily, the first year of the course is spent on Earth, excavating the ruins of New York City. Jarra will be the first ape girl to apply to an offworld university, and she knows that challenges lay ahead, but she’s got a plan. The course professor will know something is up, since her application originates from Earth, but discrimination is very frowned upon, and if she plays her cards right, no one needs to know that she’s not a norm. Jarra is very bitter about her status, and she plans to use her brains and experience with amateur excavation groups to impress, then use her big reveal to throw everything in the (hopefully shocked) faces of her norm classmates. She soon finds out that discrimination isn’t quite as cut and dry as she thought, and will soon have to re-evaluate herself and her whole outlook.
When Jarra begins her class, it’s obvious that Lecturer Playdon suspects something, and is determined to catch her in a mistake. He’ll have a hard time of it though, since Jarra has created an entire construct. While at university, she’s Jarra Military Kid, or JMK as she nicknames herself. She’s created a completely new Military identity for herself and has researched it to the hilt, including obtaining some impressive combat skills. She plans to teach these exos a lesson, and what could possibly go wrong? She’s not prepared for her varied classmates, and she’s certainly not prepared to like them, especially the handsome and sweet Fian, who takes a liking to Jarra from the very start. She soon proves to be a capable and intelligent student, and draws quite a bit of attention during their time excavating the ruins of New York City. Her 18th year will not only be a time of self-discovery, and revelation, but tragedy also strikes, sending Jarra into a tailspin. She’ll need all of her inner strength to keep from losing herself, and all that she holds dear.
Earth Girl, Janet Edwards’s debut novel, is told in 18 year old Jarra’s voice, and what a voice! In many ways, she’s a typical teen, but for us, her world is anything but typical. Over 750 years in the future, Earth is very different, and many other planets have been colonized, or are in the process of colonization. Jarra’s classmates represent a cross section of cultures and planets, and their excavation trips in the ruins of New York are fascinating and exciting.
Although the author has created a rich future world, the real story is Jarra’s and it was rather refreshing that there wasn’t a world to be saved or a crisis in which Jarra was the universe’s one and only hope. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but the lack of this sort of storyline allows the reader to become completely immersed in Jarra’s journey of self-discovery. Yes, she has typical teen issues, such as first love, and discovering her place in the world, but she’s spent 18 years thinking of how to punish everyone else for what she perceives as her shortcomings. Yes, there is discrimination against the Handicapped, but it’s not quite what she thinks, and as she gets to know her classmates as individuals, it begins to shape her world view in unexpected ways. Earth Girl most definitely has a message, and it’s an important one, but it’s never preachy, and Jarra is absolutely delightful. She’s certainly flawed, but it’s her ability to change and adapt that speaks to her character in the end. A rich, detailed, far-future world, and a strong, determined young protagonist make this a standout debut for teens and adults!