Publisher: Harper Voyager
Release Date: Out now
A sensational YA science fiction debut from an exciting new British author. Jarra is stuck on Earth while the rest of humanity portals around the universe. But can she prove to the norms that she’s more than just an Earth Girl?
2788. Only the handicapped live on Earth. While everyone else portals between worlds, 18-year-old Jarra is among the one in a thousand people born with an immune system that cannot survive on other planets. Sent to Earth at birth to save her life, she has been abandoned by her parents. She can’t travel to other worlds, but she can watch their vids, and she knows all the jokes they make. She’s an ‘ape’, a ‘throwback’, but this is one ape girl who won’t give in.
Jarra invents a fake background for herself – as a normal child of Military parents – and joins a class of norms that is on Earth to excavate the ruins of the old cities. When an ancient skyscraper collapses, burying another research team, Jarra’s role in their rescue puts her in the spotlight. No hiding at back of class now. To make life more complicated, she finds herself falling in love with one of her classmates – a norm from another planet. Somehow, she has to keep the deception going.
A freak solar storm strikes the atmosphere, and the class is ordered to portal off-world for safety – no problem for a real child of military parents, but fatal for Jarra. The storm is so bad that the crews of the orbiting solar arrays have to escape to planet below: the first landing from space in 600 years. And one is on collision course with their shelter.
*Blurb taken from Goodreads*
EARTH GIRL is a book that totally blew away my pre-expectations about what the book entailed, especially on how it tackles themes and motifs about disability in a science fiction setting.
Jarra Raeeath is a young girl who has recently graduated from Next Step, and is now considering applications to go to university. However, there is a huge problem because unlike most people her age, Jarra is deemed to be Handicapped because she is unable to travel off-world in portals. These portals are gateways that travel throughout to other settled planets, and because Jarra’s immune system is weak, it’s deadly for her to set foot off-world.
Jarra is restricted on Earth along with other people who have the same immune condition, which only affects one percent of the population. Because they are seen to be deficient, Handicapped people are seen to be useless, and they’re called derogatory names such as ‘apes’ and ‘neans’ because they are unable to leave a planet that is largely forgotten with most of its resources depleted. The other settlements send money to help fund the remaining population and a place to send their own children who are born with the same condition.
Earth is also seen to be a place which has rich historical value because of archaeological sites where it’s very popular to dig up lost artefacts and lost history due to the huge exodus to leave the planet. Jarra,who hates the restrictions and status of being Earthbound, loves history and takes the decision to study a degree in history, unlike her counterparts who want to study under a ‘norm’ university from the other settlements rather than an Earth based one.
Jarra decides to hide her real status, and fabricates a new identity and history to explain any problems from the other norm students by stating she’s from a military family.
EARTH GIRL reminded me of the movie, GATTACA, which had a similar premise of a protagonist who hides his perceived disability because of his ambition to become an astronaut, even though it may potentially kill him. And like the movie, EARTH GIRL also explores the wider ramifications of a society that is split into different factions and the impact that has on the social and political scale.
I really felt this was the highlight of the book because so much detail and thought went into the world-building which was full of nuance and vivid–from the slang and terms, which was authentic in the way language could evolve over the centuries–and to the way different factions of different colonised systems. They each have their own societal norms and mores such as the Alphas, which were the first and oldest settled planetary system; Betans who are more sexually open; and the Gammans who are more morally conservative.
It was an interesting take on the evolution of humans and their path in expanding across the universe, but at the same time, prejudice still remains Jarra assumes that being Earthbound and being an ape is one of the worse things to live with. The other clan factions also face similar attitudes with each other, and Jarra is no innocent, who also views the norms as ‘exos’ and part of the reason why she decided to join Asgard University is to implement her own bitter and prejudice views towards them.
I love the way Edwards explores this element in the book without having a moral sledge to hammer the point in. It was subtle and I liked how these themes played out throughout the book because it was realistic. Although I think the theme of disability was more about prejudice and the effects it has as well as the restrictions that a society places upon the individual.
But later in the book, Jarra starts to succumb to her made-up history, and this becomes true as Jarra contacts her birth parents and finds out that she is from a military family. Jarra suffers a psychotic break when she learns of their deaths so soon after her contact with them, which was positive and hinted of acceptance. This was a fear that she had lived with, and after her experience working alongside her Asgard classmates, she took the steps to contact her real family. But losing them led to her believing as well as living the lie she concocted. This gave me an almost dreamlike tone with Jarra living the fantasy that she was a ‘norm’ and there was an almost hyper feel with her breaking free from reality.
However, reality does come crashing down in a literal sense when a huge solar storm threatens the portal gates that has to be shutdown, which leaves Jarra stranded along with her norm boyfriend who she embarks on a temporary relationship contract. But when news of of stranded military personnel based in orbit above, Earth have to opt in hastily adapted space capsules to escape the coming storm from space. Jarra has to help rescue one capsule which crash lands near their dig site. Jarra’s emotional and psychological world comes crashing down, and she has to face the huge mess she’s made with her personal and professional life.
That was the weakest aspect of the boo. There is a huge build-up with world-building and an in-depth exploration on the themes. Jarra’s reaction to the truth was not that believable and it felt very rushed. I also felt the ending could have been fleshed out, and I was disappointed that the fallout on Jarra’s secret was not covered or shown. It felt very anti-climactic. I also felt this was not realistic and for something that was the main focus of the book, it was a disappointment.
Nonetheless, the book’s themes and characters were multifaceted and full of depth. I even liked the romance which had a hero who was not an alphahole who was not afraid of an assertive heroine and actually was attracted to it. It was so refreshing to read, especially in a YA, which is rare. While this isn’t pacey or action-packed, EARTH GIRL is thought-provoking book with a rich tapestry like-world. I hope Jarra can find a way to explore offworld because I would love to witness that in the future sequels.
I give EARTH GIRL a B