CM . . .
. Volume XXI Number 5. . . .October 3, 2014 |
Eleven-year-old Roberta and her best friend Marilee decide to search for UFOs as their Science Fair project. Their town is famous for four people claiming to be abducted by aliens, and recently, people, including the Sheriff, have seen strange lights in the sky. Roberta and Marilee's UFO-hunting camp-out ends with her older brother playing a practical joke on them and frightening them into running home. The girls vow revenge, and Science Fair plans are put on hold as they plan their own embarrassing prank. On a night-time reconnaissance mission, both Roberta and Marilee see inexplicable lights in the sky. Then the Sheriff recants his story about seeing a UFO and resigns, and Roberta is left confused about what to believe.
Finally the girls put their revenge plan in motion: Roberta pretends to be a ghost on Peterson's Mountain. But her older brother and his friend are ready for them and scare the girls into revealing themselves. As the four of them return down the mountain, they all see the strange bright lights. They hide in a cave and then realize that two hours has passed and none of them has any memory of what happened. Roberta, determined to find out if they encountered aliens, lures the aliens back by sending the Morse code message, "We remember." An alien ship plucks Roberta and Merilee off their bicycles, and the girls have a friendly encounter with the robots in the ship, telling them about their need for a really good Science Fair project. The robots take their memories away again, but they leave Roberta with knowledge about an imminent supernova, and so she is able to take a picture of it happening. After discussing it with Merilee, however, Roberta decides not to tell anyone about the supernova because they aren't ready for that kind of fame. Roberta decides that being a normal girl in a normal town is good enough for her.
The Summer Experiment is a light-hearted, funny story about a girl figuring out her world, one which may, or may not, have aliens in it. Although UFO encounters are the ostensible action of the plot, the real drama is in Roberta's relationships with her family and friends. She is much more concerned about getting revenge on her brother and beating the past Science Fair winner than she is about aliens. The really important events of the story occur in a subplot about Merilee dealing with her parents' divorce and another subplot about the death of Roberta's grandfather. Both girls are reassured by the strength of family ties in the face of any difficulty.
Roberta is an engaging character with spunk and humour. Her insistence on ridiculous Science Fair projects might be too exaggerated to be believable, but the whole story has the tongue-in-cheek feeling of a tall tale. Readers will enjoy the depiction of small-town life, particularly the freedom Roberta and her friends have to ride ATVs into the woods and go on camp-outs.
Kim Aippersbach is a writer, editor, and mother of three in Vancouver, BC.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.