Janet Edwards’ “Earth Girl:” Smart, Realistic YA SF Adventure

Janet Edwards’ forthcoming debut novel, EARTH GIRL, is a fun young adult adventure story about Jarra, an eighteen-year-old Handicapped young woman from Earth.  In the not-so-distant future (the year 2788, to be exact), most human beings can portal to other worlds, but someone Handicapped, like Jarra, cannot do so and must stay on Earth as it’s literally a matter of life or death.

So even though most human needs have now been largely alleviated, as everyone has food, clothing, shelter, medical care and as much education as he or she wants — a largely utopian vision — there are still differences.  People like Jarra are called “Neans” (short for “Neanderthals”), “apes” or worse, while the Handicapped call everyone who can portal “exos,” short for those who made the Exodus away from Earth long ago.

Jarra wants to become a historian, which isn’t just a scholar but also is something of an archaeologist, and find out more about what was lost on Earth due to the Exodus.  But she’s tired of thinking of herself as a second-class citizen, which is why she’s determined to get accepted to an off-world university — possible only because every off-world university sends their first-year students to Earth.  She does this, makes up a fake military background for her parents (as having to admit that she has a “ProMom” and a “ProDad” would blow her cover right away) and heads off to school.

Jarra ends up meeting a number of “exos,” including her teacher, Playdon, an extremely well-known young woman, Dalmora Rostha (whose father makes important, wildly popular historical videos), two people from the notoriously hedonistic Betan sector, Lolia and Lolmack, Krath, an obnoxious young man who could be from anywhere and any place, and a good-hearted young man from the somewhat puritanical Delta sector, Fian, who becomes Jarra’s love interest.  Getting to know all of these people causes Jarra to realize that not all exos mean her ill (even if Krath is a pain in everyone’s posterior).

Jarra continues her pretense of being a “military kid,” which allows her to say she’s never really stayed much of anywhere except Earth (the flat truth). Over time, she has a wide variety of adventures,  all dealing with archaeological digs centered in and around New York City.  Jarra has some experience with such things — as much as any underage teen could have, before she turned eighteen and started her university studies — and starts to impress Playdon and the others with her energy, knowledge and zeal for history.

History in Jarra’s time is a fascinating endeavor.  Due to the Exodus,  Earth’s population has been drastically reduced, which is why most cities have been abandoned.  It’s unsafe to dig in the abandoned cities due to the way skyscrapers have settled and/or collapsed (much less the various chemical spills and other assorted problems).   Yet there’s so much to be rediscovered that these latter-day historians/archaeologists view it as being more than worth the risk.

That’s why these first-year students are so vital.  They are learning in a hands-on environment in the birthplace of humanity — Earth — and get to see right away what their careers will be like.

At any rate, all of this backstory would seem to overwhelm Jarra or her importance, but it doesn’t.  Instead, Jarra thrives in this environment and seems just like any other living, breathing kid with a bent for archaeology and the skills to match.  Her coming of age story is powerful, precisely because she’s a smart kid with a bad attitude who wants to be taken seriously despite her Handicap, and we can’t help but root for her.

Of course Jarra can’t get away with her deception forever.  So it can be reasonably assumed that push will come to shove at some point.

When this happens, Jarra must admit she’s from Earth to her young lover, Fian.  This admits her Handicap and gives Fian a reason to run, but will he?

And even if he doesn’t, what will happen to Jarra once her year with the exos is up?  (Further reviewer sayeth not.)

Overall, this is a young adult science fiction action-adventure story with just a little romance, one that’s based more on how well Jarra and Fian get along than about how they call to each other romantically.  And while there is a lot of physical chemistry between Jarra and Fian (the romance wouldn’t work without it), I found it to be a smart, engaging and realistic romance.

Which I suppose isn’t a surprise, because I found EARTH GIRL to be a smart, engaging and extremely realistic view of what happens when an intelligent and talented young adult with what’s viewed as a handicap comes of age in a largely utopian society, albeit one with flaws.

Bottom line: this is an excellent read (a debut novel, no less) that teens and adults will love.  So when it is released in the United States in early March, go grab yourself a copy, soonest.  (For those lucky enough to live in the UK or Germany, go find this book today.  You won’t regret it.)

Grade: A.

— reviewed by Barb

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