CM . . .
. Volume XXIV Number 11. . . .November 17, 2017
Benjamin Harper & Sarah Hines Stephens. Illustrated by Anoosha Syed.
New York, NY: [Imprint] (Distributed in Canada by Raincoast Books, 2017).
297 pp., hardcover, $20.99.
Grades 3-7 / Ages 8-12.
Review by Aileen Wortley.
"Bug Girl! Bug Girl!" Students banged their trays on the table for effect.
It still could be worse, Amanda thought… She'd managed to avoid having a school nickname for nearly two semesters. And "Bug Girl" was a far cry better than some of the insulting terms she'd overheard (like Gaggy and Dumpers and Crud Bucket and Zits McGillicuddy and Underarm). Besides, in many ways, the name was accurate she did love bugs.
"Just ignore them." Vincent said, loud enough for Amanda to hear him over the din. He did not make eye contact. They both knew that the best way to deal with this sort of bullying hysteria was to pretend it wasn't happening. Any show of horror or protest would prolong the episode. And there was no point in any of Amanda's fellow outcasts standing up for her—they would only add fuel to the fire. So the entire Oyster Cove Entomological Society simply sat and waited for it to end.
Amanda inhaled and exhaled slowly. She was strong enough to handle this, she knew. But was she strong enough to handle Emily's party? She wasn't so sure about that. More than anything, she wished she could curl into a tight little armored ball, like a pill bug, and stay that way until Sunday.
Sixth grader Amanda's passion for insects marks her as 'weird' by most of her peers. She is particularly hurt that her once best friend, Emily, now disdains her. When their mothers disappear, they must put hostilities aside to rescue them from an elderly, evil madman, the 'Exterminator', who plans to take over the world. Discovering their mothers are, in fact, superheroes who have thwarted many villains in the past, both girls realize they, too, have gifts that help them conquer evil. Amanda can take on insect-like characteristics, and Emily can summon up super-human strength. With these qualities, clues left by their mothers and the help of science geek Vincent, Amanda's grandad and Frida (another heroine disguised as housekeeper), they set out to save their mothers and the world.
With part of the plot rooted firmly in the real world of school rivalries and part in a fantasy land of super-human powers and good versus evil that almost strains credulity, Bug Girl is a surprisingly enticing read even for those of us not hooked on science fiction. Once into the plot, it is hard to put the book down. Some of the characters are quite delightfully drawn, including Amanda herself, sensitive nattily dressed Vincent and endearing Poppy who may seem elderly and frail but is actually the definition of resilience. Others, such as the coterie of girls who support Emily, are recognizable stereotypes.
Sidebars scattered through the book feature 'Fun Bug Facts', many of which have a connection to the story. Some of these characteristics are so astounding they read like fantasy themselves and are an excellent addition to the book.
The illustrations that run throughout are highly engaging, featuring stylized, sometimes diagrammatic, cartoon-type drawings that pack in a lot of detail and whimsy. The text throughout is attractively bordered by a frame of green, black and white that bears tiny illustrations of people and bugs featured in the story.
Bug Girl is a lighthearted, highly readable action story with a strong young girl as hero and a deserved triumph over bullies both in her day-to-day world and the world at large. Readers aged 8-12 will enjoy the excitement of the adventure and look forward to the hinted-at sequel.
Aileen Wortley is a retired children's librarian living in Toronto, ON.
© CM Association
University of Manitoba
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