Martians Abroad by Carrie Vaughn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This book seems to me to be, at least in part, a reply to Robert Heinlein's classic juvenile Podkayne of Mars. I read Podkayne years ago, but I would hesitate to revisit it now. I skimmed the first few pages recently as an experiment, and I am afraid I would find that the Suck Fairy has taken up permanent residence in its pages. Yes, Poddy has a distinctive voice, but unfortunately it's the voice of an egotistical narcissist that has no relation to how a sixteen-year-old girl would actually think.
(And I'm not going to touch the topic of Podkayne's sociopathic little brother Clark.)
Martians Abroad does not have that problem. Polly Newton is a realistic, relatable character who undergoes a nice character arc over the course of this story. She is a bit immature in the first chapter, a slightly spoiled seventeen-year-old born and raised on Mars whose world is upended when her mother sends Polly and her twin brother to Earth. They are enrolled in the prestigious Galileo Academy, a school that Polly's mother Martha insists will prepare them to succeed in life. The book charts the course of Polly and Charles' first few months at Galileo, and explores themes of culture shock and a fundamentally decent teenage girl's coming of age.
This is a quiet, character-driven tale. Polly and Charles do not stop a conspiracy, fall in love, or save Earth and/or Mars. (There is a hint of romance, stiff and awkward and utterly believable, but I'm glad it's not front and center.) The story has a bit of a mystery plot, with escalating incidents of danger at the school that Polly and Charles have to solve. But again, this serves mainly to illustrate the characters. In the end, Carrie Vaughn has updated Podkayne of Mars for a modern audience, and I've enjoyed what she's done with it.
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