“What if . . . what if you don’t just have a squirrel tail and front teeth, and are pretty strong? What if you actually have the proportional strength, speed, and agility of a squirrel? So if a squirrel can leap five times the length of its own body, let’s say, then you should be able to leap five times the length of your body, which would be . . . thirty feet. Thirty feet, Doreen.”
“Nah, I can’t jump that far.”
“What if it’s more?”
“I mean, I have some skills,” sighed Doreen. “But it’s not like I’m Spider-Man.”
“No, you’re not Spider-Man,” said Ana Sofía. She looked her dead in the eyes and said with great solemnity, “You’re Squirrel Girl.”
—The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Meets World, by Shannon Hale & Dean Hale, published by Marvel Press.
WHY DID YOU ALL LET ME WAIT SO LONG TO READ THIS BOOK?
The short version:
Squirrel Meets World is profoundly, cheerfully absurd; a hilarious, optimistic, heartwarming, delight of a book. It made me smile every time I turned a page, laugh out loud again and again, and even get a little teary by the end.
The longer version:
Fourteen-year-old Doreen Green and her parents have just moved from California to New Jersey. Doreen misses her friends from back home, but being the glass-half-full girl that she is, she’s also very much looking forward to making new friends in this new town. Sure, she’s sad that she has to hide her super-strength and gorgeous squirrel tail when she’s out in public, but that’s nothing new—and her parents are probably right, the other kids would totally be jealous if they knew.
Squirrel Meets World hits the classic beats of a superhero origin story—assembling a team, discovering the ins and outs of balancing Super Hero-dom with Regular Life, a quick rise in local popularity leading to an even more rapid descent into local disgrace, soul-searching about What Makes A Hero, and ultimately, a Huge, Multi-Act Smackdown Battle with the Big Bad. All of the various threads about heroism and identity and courage and cooperation and communication and sacrifice and Doing What’s Right are smart and emotionally nuanced and well-integrated into the story. Also, the cameos by other Marvel superheroes are a joy.
But what makes this book super special—what makes it work on the Heart level as well as on the Pure Entertainment Gold level—is the characters, their relationships, and the very clear glee that Hale & Hale take in puns and wordplay and voice. There are entire chapters from the perspective of Tippy-Toe, Doreen’s best squirrel friend, and entire conversations between squirrels along the lines of:
“Shuck and crunch, Miss Mandy,” I said, speaking in traditional Jersey squirrel dialect. “Just the squeak I wanted to see.”
There are digressions about squirrel folklore and LINGUISTICS:
They spoke a language more full of coo than chuk, but it clearly had developed from the same morphological root as Chitterspeak. And most importantly, babies were always dropping food. Squirrels were certain that the food-dropping thing was on purpose: babies recognized squirrels as significant beings and so made them offerings in the form of delicious sidewalk food.
Throughout the entire adventure, Doreen speaks directly to the reader via FOOTNOTES. Which is a literary device that can be divisive, but as I fall into the ALWAYS HERE FOR IT camp, it just added to the sheer bliss of my reading experience.
It’s the story of a girl who brings disparate factions of people—three entirely different cliques of kids, as well as squirrels and other animals—together to solve problems. It’s a story about how one person can promote change, for good or for ill—and how that person’s actions affect and inspire others. It’s very much a book that celebrates the ripple effect of Doing Good, and that’s a theme that we all need in our eyes and ears and lives right now.
THE UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL: A HERO FOR OUR TIME.
In addition to running a library in rural Maine, Leila Roy blogs at Bookshelves of Doom and The Backlist, is currently serving on the Amelia Bloomer Project committee, is a contributor at Book Riot, hangs out on Twitter a lot—possibly too much—and watches a shocking amount of television. Her cat is a murderer.