Earth Girl is the debut novel for Janet Edwards, and it is a great first book. It is set in 2789, a future where humans have developed portal technology which allows them to colonize space.
Billions of humans have left Earth to live on other planets. However, a small percentage of the population cannot survive anywhere but on Earth. If they are born on another planet, or try to portal off Earth, they go into anaphylactic shock. Earth is now populated predominantly with these people, called ‘Handicapped’ if you are being polite or ‘Apes’ if you are not.
The protagonist is Jarra, who has just become an adult. She has “unresolved bitterness and anger” over being born Handicapped and therefore abandoned by her embarrassed parents. She has been raised, as are most Handicapped children, as a ward of Hospital Earth.
One of the only reasons non-Handicapped people (called Norms if you are being polite, or Exos if you are not) come to Earth is to work on archaeological digs or to study human history. A foundation history year on Earth has been made compulsory for all history courses.
Jarra is a history nut; she hatches a plan to prove to the Norms who come that being Handicapped does not make her less human.
The characters in this book are vivid and engaging. Jarra is smart, courageous and likeable. Her friend Fian is a great character too. The book is well paced and the story line is interesting. There is just enough tension and suspense to keep you turning the pages, without it being a draining read. I found it hard to put down and sat up reading it far later than I should have!
As well as being a coming of age story, this is a book about prejudice. Jarra sets out to prove that the prejudices people have towards her are wrong, only to find that she has her own set of prejudices that she needs to abandon. She also comes to realise that making judgements about people based on where they come from or what they look like often leads to a misjudgement – people are much more complex than that.
When I started the book, I felt like Janet Edwards had overdone things a little: she has made up slang for her characters to speak and there was a fair bit of pop culture explanation. However, by the end of the book most of those references had been relevant. When I put down the book I found myself thinking in the slang words of the book. After the first chapter or two it had stopped sounding forced and had contributed to the flavour of the book.
This book would appeal to young adults and adults alike. It is a futuristic science fiction book and should appeal to fans of the genre: it is an interesting take on the humans populating space scenario. The real strength though is in the characters Janet Edwards has written. If you like a strong female lead who nonetheless needs the supporting characters, you will probably like Jarra.
I really enjoyed reading this book and I look forward to seeing more from Janet Edwards.