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May 27, 2008

The H-Bomb Girl

Marianne and I both read Stephen Baxter's The H-Bomb Girl, the Clarke-nominated Young Adult novel set in Liverpool at the peak of the Cuban missile crisis. For Marianne, who is now 11, I think it was well pitched. It taught her a good bit of history and a good bit of science; she loved the story and thought the book as a whole was 'brilliant'. She spent the entire trip home from our wet bank holiday weekend regaling us with questions about time travel paradoxes, to which nearly all of our answers were 'you need to read more SF, girl.'

In the book, our hero, Laura, finds herself in a new school in Liverpool following her parents' separation. Her father has given her the key to a Vulcan bomber in the belief that she can use this to get special treatment in the event of a nuclear war. She makes some new friends, who discover the key and quickly dub her the H-Bomb girl of the title. But the key has attracted the interest of visitors from the future, who have a variety of reasons for wanting to get their hands on it. This all plays out against the backdrop of beat-mad 1962 Liverpool; the Beatles make a slightly over the top appearance.

This book is clearly perfect for older kids, both those who have read a good bit of SF and those who have only a little. Like Marianne, they'll absorb all the historical background; the SF is interesting and thought-provoking, the plot cracks along at a good pace, and the ending is agreeably satisfying. I don't know whether interesting YA SF with female protagonists is at all common these days; when I was growing up it obviously wasn't at all.

For adults? My own views were much closer to Abigail Nussbaum's than Farah Mendlesohn's. I found the tokenism of the supporting characters (poor mouthy girl who gets pregnant, only black boy in school, only gay in the village) insanely irritating. The scene-setting is clumsy; Laura has moved from High Wycombe, but the description of Liverpool domestic life is consistently written as if she had moved from the future that the young readers live in. And the base story is a very simple piece of SF; it works for young readers, but adult SF readers are going to be way ahead of the plot.

Posted by Alison Scott at May 27, 2008 07:48 PM


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