A whole universe to humans to explore, except Jarrah
Image from HarperCollins website
It is the year 2789. There is finally no more population problem - or many other problems, for that matter. Humanity has long ago learnt to build portals for faster-than-light travel and spread its ever-increasing numbers onto other planets. Many colonies have become well-established elsewhere in the galaxy, and the Military is constantly exploring unexplored planets in the hope of finding more places where one day, some people can call 'home'.
There are many novels set in the future, many of them dystopian or post-apocalyptic in nature. Refreshingly, Janet Edwards' novel, Earth Girl, features a futuristic world that does not sound so bleak.
In this new era, the little blue-and-green and hostile planet we know as Earth serves a very special purpose - as the home of the Handicapped, 'throwbacks', 'neanderthals', or 'apes'. In contrast to the 'Norms', these are people born with an immune system does not allow them live anywhere else in the galaxy.
Jarra is one such individual destined to spend her life on Earth. But, unwilling to submit to Handicap stereotypes, she applies to a Norm university, with the aim of fooling the Norms into thinking she is one of them and thus proving that she is their equal. Posing as a Military child, Jarra sets out to gain the respect of the off-worlders with her broad knowledge and archaeology skills.
So despite the advances that their society has made, discrimination remains a prominent theme in Earth Girl. Most evident is the distinction drawn between the Norms and the Handicapped, and the disgust with which the former view the latter. As the story progresses, Edwards also sheds light on the cultural differences between people from different planets and sectors, and the friction that this causes between them. But above all, the characters are reminded that they are all human.
The world is well-constructed, and Edwards has slipped in interesting details all throughout the story. From the process undergone to find new habitable planets, to the excavation processes of their world, to the disastrous effects of solar flares on their communication and transport, these all help to flesh out the context of 2789.
Jarra is the driving force behind this novel. Although I enjoyed reading about Edwards' image of the future, it was Jarra's narrative voice and strong character that made the story so entertaining. Despite her status as almost a 'second-class citizen', she is optimistic and confident about her abilities. She is often mature in her thoughts, but still shows youthful excitability, and sometimes will be too quick to judge others. In addition to gaining the acceptance of others, she too learns to accept those different from herself. In many ways, I find her to be a unique protagonist, likable for her cheerful attitude, good humour and steadfast determination, and her flaws easily forgivable.
Through Earth Girl, Edwards conveys messages of individuality, overcoming adversity and cohesiveness, through Jarrah's character and her journey as she learns to befriend the Norms. It is the first in a trilogy, but it reads well as a standalone novel too.