The Kitty Norville series got old, fast, but I still think Carrie Vaughn is a great writer. She's written some fantastic shorts that you can read for free on Tor.com and her non-Kitty Norville books, which are mostly standalones, are unique and daring and mostly enjoyable. You can imagine my excitement then when I found out that Vaughn had decided to break the mold yet again and publish what looked like young adult space opera.
Speaking as someone who was reared on a steady diet of Star Wars and Star Trek, there are no two words in the literary universe that will have me running in your direction faster. Well, okay, that's not entirely true: "free bodice-rippers" would also have me getting pretty speedy in your direction, but I'm not sure whether the hyphen counts as cheating or not.
MARTIANS ABROAD isn't about actual aliens, but a bunch of teenagers who were reared on a Martian Colony and are now being sent to Earth to attend a prestigious academy. Our narrator is a teenage girl named Polly Newton, who is going with her "twin" brother Charles, and a handful of other Martians. Polly makes a huge stink about going, and throughout the book her refrain can basically be summed up as "Earth sucks, Mars is better."
And she wonders why she's not making any friends...
The Galileo Academy is like elite boarding school meets military school. They're closely supervised at all times by the tyrannical Ms. Stanton, have pretty much no free time, and it's clear from the get-go that many of the students and faculty are biased against Colonists...for some unspecified reason. Polly, on the other hand, is small and thin because of Mars's lower gravity, and she has trouble getting accustomed to the weird Earth food, can't eat certain things because of her gut bacteria, and isn't quite acclimated to the heavy gravity, thus finding herself constantly out of breath.
I appreciated the thought that clearly went into what it would be like living on a planet other than the one you were born on (gut bacteria and gravity were nice touches), but the story itself was boring. Polly is an incredibly immature heroine who acts more like a preteen than a teenager, and apart from her flaunting the rules and getting into fights with everyone from her brother, to the parents of other students, to the principal herself, there's pretty much no action until the very end. As a reader, I really didn't think that ending was worth the payoff. It felt like a pretty big cop-out.
How was it a cop-out? Let me put it like this - when I was in elementary school, there was this book I used to really love in a popular series you probably read, too. It was about a camp where the other students were curiously hostile, the faculty were either aloof or overtly threatening for no apparent reason, and horrible things kept happening causing the other campers to just disappear. At the end of the book, the author M. Night Shyamalan'd the heck out of me: it turns out that the camp was just a "test" to see if the kid, who is actually an alien, is ready to journey to planet Earth.
The twist in this book wasn't nearly as exciting.
Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!
1.5 to 2 out of 5 stars