Hilary Rogers, Girltopia, Scholastic Australia, September 2018, 192 pp., RRP $14.99 (pbk), ISBN 9781742994581
Girltopia chronicles’tween Clara’s reaction to her parents’ separation, her relationships with friends and frenemies, and also her quest to work out the mystery of the virus that has suddenly struck down all males in society!
This title is firmly aimed at the pre-teen female market, and as I’ve been out of the pre-teen fiction target audience for a while I called in an expert to help with this review: my cousin Bridie, aged 13. Bridie liked Girltopia, but felt that too much happened in the first few pages, so it was hard to see where the story was going. I see Bridie’s point – initially, it seems that Clara processing her parents’ recent separation will be the main plot, but we soon discover it’s the mysterious virus and Clara’s quest to make sure her Dad is safe.
Although the plot takes a while to get going, overall Clara’s self-consciousness and concern about friendship groups is likely to resonate with readers. Additionally, Clara is a well-developed character and her interactions with friends feel natural, as do the casual references to wanting a mobile phone, number of Instagram followers and admiration of her older, “cooler” teenage neighbour. Some scenes do feel slightly contrived – for example, the scene where the girls enjoy a boys-free maths class Clara thinks to herself “Maybe it was because there were no boys there to be too cool, or to call the girls stupid … It was pretty loud and a bit naughty to be yelling out the answers …”. Although the intention may be to encourage girls to be more assertive in STEM classes, it may actually have the opposite effect, by reiterating the boys are loud and disruptive and girls are reserved, when (hopefully) readers may not have had that experience.
“Clara had thought she was just being dumb” and “It was pretty loud and a bit naughty to be yelling out answers”.
Although Clara’s focus on her appearance is not unusual for a twelve-year-old girl, some parents may find some of the phrasing problematic (“Clara spent a moment sending bad vibes to the hairdresser who had done such a terrible job yesterday—right when she needed to look awesome”). Additionally, some of the language used may not be considered appropriate for younger readers, so parents and teachers may wish to glance through this title prior to assignment to ensure they are comfortable with the content.
The cover design is bright and modern, and with two more books to come in the series readers will eagerly await the new instalments (recommended 11+).
Reviewed by Jessica Dowling