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Girl Reporter Paperback – November 12, 2017
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Living in the 21st century, instead of writing for outfits like Women’s Weekly, Friday has a youtube channel where she covers superheroes in her own way, like mother, like daughter. Hey, she’s just gotten one million hits on her channel. Friday’s huge! She’s also grown up in a world where superheroes are real and a thing, and she is possibly the daughter of one, or at least all the gossip and tabloids suggests anyway. Her mother doesn’t talk about that either.
So in a 21st century world where superheroes are a thing and you are trying to follow in your mother’s trailblazing path...and your mother suddenly disappears, then your course of action is clear: Use your skills and existing connections to Australia’s superheroes to go find her. Rescue Mom, get the story. Even if dimension hopping is involved. Even if secrets about your Mom’s history, and the history of Australian superheroes get exposed in the process.
This is Friday Valentina’s story in Tansy Rayner Roberts’ YA novella Girl Reporter, from the Booksmugglers Novella Initiative.
Girl Reporter is not the first story in this verse that Roberts has written. Previously, her story “Cookie Cutter Superhero”, in the award winning Kaleidoscope anthology, introduced the superhero world that we see here. Kid Dark Against the Machine, her second story, continued that exploration of a world where superhero-creating machines arrived in the early 1980’s, and so nations around the world started creating superheroes, useful in a world of supervillains, invaders from other planets and dimensions, and the general mayhem that you find in comic book universes. Given that Girl Reporter has a superhero enthusiast as its protagonist, the infodumping of what we need to understand how this universe came about is efficient and easy. You don’t need to read the previous stories to grok this world, but you may want to read them after you’ve read this anyway. Characters from those stories appear here in this narrative.
Writing stories, as opposed to comics or movies, in a comic book world is not always the easiest trick to pull off. Comic book universes are a visual medium by design, using image be it on page or screen to convey what words find it more difficult to pull off. (And let me put in here, now, that I think that the cover for Girl Reporter, by Emma Glaze, is fantastic). Given that Roberts focuses on an intensely person, character and dialogue driven story, she overcomes the natural disadvantages of taking to type exclusively to tell a superhero story and instead dives deeply into the richness of her protagonist and the characters around her. ‘Friday is intensely interesting as a protagonist, and her voice as a character is strong and marked.
For all the of the entertainment value of the story, the story also asks and answers and debates questions about representation(of various forms), cultural appropriation, own voices, and much more. This is a seriously and strongly written story of our cultural moment, and it is not one that could have been easily published 20, 10 or perhaps even 5 years ago. Come for the Girl Reporter trying to find her Mom, stay for the 21st century universe of characters and ideas that we deserve.
The novella ends with an essay on Lois Lane (the ur-character for any Girl Reporter character in fiction, obviously), a strong piece on her history and role and development that is nearly worth the price of admission on its own.
In the end, Tansy Rayner Roberts proves, as a writer, feminist, and a person, you don’t need spandex to be your own hero.
When I first finished reading this and I was updating Goodreads, I posted the following review, promising to do a proper one later.
"EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEeeeeeeeeeeEEEEEEEEEEEE!!! THIS WAS JUST SO FANTASTIC AND AWESOME AND WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!!!!!!!!!!!! Is the unfiltered glee-whimsy-gush from my brain just now. It’s perfect."
Now I’m writing said ‘proper’ review, but I also think that my initial delighted squeefest is relevant because that’s what makes this book so special. It is an unadulterated, whimsical novella with a protagonist who I fell in love with instantly. I adored Friday so much, not just because she was quirky and easily someone I’d like to be friends with, but also because she’s fully fledged and has flaws and doubts and struggles with things. I loved getting to see further into the universe of the superheroes that Tansy created, I’m delighted that we get to spend more time with Solar (from the original story featured in Kaleidescope) too.
This is a superhero story with a little bit of everything – the potential fate of the world hangs in the balance! Only a band of plucky volunteers can save the day! They run into mishaps and need support from an unlikely source! Complex relationships from friendships, family, and new-found romance. Not to mention a nice little interplay between the merits of journalism and how that’s changed over time – the rise of the vlog and the immediacy of engagement and feedback versus print media and formal publishing – I loved this part.
I’m also really into the novella format at the moment – I’ve been overloaded this year and it’s impacted on my reading, I’ve found a lot of satisfaction this year in reading novellas because they’re a length that doesn’t demand too much from me, either in time or brain power. Unlike short stories that I struggle with because there is often a lack of depth and satisfaction with the story, novellas have that extra space and seem to use it well (or at least this one and the others I’ve been enjoying have managed this). But it also doesn’t drag on, or weighted down.
I also think it’s worth sharing that of all the authors I’ve read this year, I probably owe getting through the year to Tansy, because her books have cushioned me from the stress of everything going on in my life. Girl Reporter is an excellent example of how excellent characters, emotionally satisfying interactions and relationships, as well as a fun and interesting plot come together and transport you to another world for a while. All things can be conquered, if not without consequences. Bad experiences and situations are faced, there is progress, even success and always growth as characters learn and change. These elements are consistent in Tansy’s writing, especially in Girl Reporter and it’s an excellent novella.
If you’ve always admired Lois Lane, if you enjoy YouTube vloggers, if you think that the mediascape is ever-changing and are delighted by the possibilities, and if you love superheroes, queer romance, and characters that you want to make friends with, this is the book for you.