Today, I’m going to be taking a look at something a little different. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Meets World was written by Shannon and Dean Hale and first published in 2017. It’s a middle grade science fiction story, based around the Marvel superheroine of the same name. The novel stands alone, so you don’t need to know anything about the character before picking it up.
Doreen Green is aged fourteen (and well aware that those things rhyme). She likes to think that she’s a typical teenager. She likes making new friends, dancing and talking to squirrels. Okay, well maybe one of those isn’t that typical. You see, Doreen has a secret. She hides the fact that she has a five-foot-long prehensile tale, the ability to talk to select woodland creatures and the proportional speed and strength of a squirrel!
In secret, Doreen has taken to thinking of herself as Squirrel Girl and dreams of one day joining the Avengers. However, she knows that she needs to keep her abilities secrets. Her parents have always told her that if others see her awesome tail, they’ll only be jealous of it. It’s really a shame as Doreen has just started a new school and is struggling to fit in. The only girl who is remotely friendly with her is Ana Sofía, and that’s partially because they both tend to be ignored by the “Somebodies”.
However, when someone starts setting lethal squirrel traps around the city, Doreen knows that she’s hero that Shady Oaks needs. Donning a hood to protect her identity, she starts out her career small by rounding up stray dogs, cleaning graffiti and saving babies. However, it’s not long until she attracts the attention of the Micro-Manager – a brand new super villain who has decided that Squirrel Girl would make the perfect nemesis…
Much like with Five Nights at Freddy’s: The Silver Eyes, this book is an attempt to branch out from one medium to another. To give you a bit of background, Squirrel Girl was created in 1991 by Will Murray and Steve Ditko. Although she’s appeared in several super hero teams over the years, she became more popular in 2014 when she was given her own series – The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl – written by Ryan North (better known as the mind behind Dinosaur Comics). If you haven’t read this series, I really would recommend it. It is hilarious and contains some brilliantly imaginative characters.
Anyhow, you really don’t need to know any of this to enjoy Squirrel Meets World. While some knowledge of the Marvel Universe helps, you really don’t need to have done anything more than seen the recent movies to fully appreciate the story. It’s really an origins story and does a great job of introducing her powers, philosophy and squirrely side-kick, Tippy-Toe. As you may have guessed, it’s not really a concept to be taken seriously. After all, the idea of a girl with squirrel powers is about as crazy as a man who dresses like a bat to fight crime, or one who gained all the powers of a spider from a radioactive arachnid. Wait…
Yeah, okay, Squirrel Girl is totally played for laughs and does knowingly make fun of all the typical superhero tropes that we know and love. In this way, it’s the fondest sort of love letter to the Marvel Universe. Yet what makes it surprisingly endearing is its tone. Since the 90s, a lot of mainstream comics have become surprisingly dark. Yet both this novel and the North series from which it takes most of its inspiration are both overwhelmingly positive. Really, it’s just a joy to read. Its cheery, over-the-top, and infectiously optimistic. It also carries a great message about the importance of being yourself and not letting the negativity of others (particularly internet trolls) get you down. And that’s really difficult to fault.
The story itself is fast paced and often laugh-out-loud funny. However, there were a few places where I felt that the narrative let itself down. At times I felt that it had trouble focusing. Scenes sometimes blurred together, with dialogue switching immediately into combat, making the action a little hard to follow. This was made even more difficult in the chapters that followed Tippy-Toe’s adventures, as the squirrels have a slightly odd mode of speech that is occasionally awkward to translate. I found this especially hard when Tippy was introduced to a squirrel with a thick Brooklyn accent, though this could be because I’m just unfamiliar with American dialects in general.
There were also quite a lot of footnotes in this book, which I think some readers may find a little annoying. All of these are written in first person, as though Doreen is reading the story along with you, and were occasionally worth a chuckle. However, they also sometimes detracted from the action as Doreen felt the need to comment on irrelevant details even while kicking robot butt. It never felt all that necessary, as the comments rarely added anything of importance that wasn’t otherwise contained within the story itself.
Yet the cast of the novel were, simply, fantastic. There is just so much to this novel that you don’t often see in a superhero story. For example, Doreen is completely honest with her parents at all times. She never really makes any attempt to hide her alter ego from them, and they’re always so proud and supportive of her for it. The cameos from popular Marvel characters were also really well integrated, with Rocket Raccoon and the Winter Soldier in particular stealing the show.
And then there were the main female characters. A lot of the story was spent portraying the friendship between Doreen and Ana Sofía, which was also amazing. It really did get across a convincing friendship between two teenage girls and the characters complemented each other greatly. Doreen is lively, excitable and optimistic; while Ana Sofía is introspective, calm and rational.
I also loved how Ana Sofía’s deafness was portrayed in the story. It’s never shown as being a negative thing, but the novel does illustrate how people often treated her differently because of it, and how they could modify their behaviour to make her life easier. It’s rare to see characters with disabilities in novels and rarer still for those characters to be ethnically diverse, making Ana Sofía’s inclusion all the more awesome.
Anyhow, I don’t have much more to say about this one. I really enjoyed reading it and would recommend it to any young reader. It certainly makes me want to take a look at some of Marvel’s other middle grade novels to see if they’re all of this quality.
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Meets World can be purchased as a Hardback and eBook from Amazon.co.uk