A trilogy ender that is solid…until its hugely problematic resolution.
Title: Earth Flight
Author: Janet Edwards
Genre: Science Fiction, Speculative Fiction, Young Adult
Publication Date: September 2015
Hardcover: 300 pages
Jarra never wanted to be a celebrity. All she ever wanted was to gain some respect for the people left on Earth: the unlucky few whose immune systems prevent them from portalling to other planets.
Except now she’s the most famous Earth girl in the universe—but not everyone in the universe is happy about it, nor the fact that she has found love with a norm. Jarra’s actions have repercussions that spread further than she ever could have imagined, and political unrest threatens to tear apart the delicate balance of peace between humanity’s worlds.
On top of everything, the first alien artifact ever discovered appears to be waiting for Jarra to reveal its secrets. But to do so, she must somehow find a way to leave Earth, or the alien artifact will be lost forever. Is there a way for Jarra to travel to another planet? Or is her destiny only to look to the stars, but never to reach them?
Stand alone or series: Book 3 in the Earth Girl trilogy
How did I get this book: Review Copy from the publisher
Format (e- or p-): Print
Why did I read this book: I love the first two books in the series, so this third and final novel in the trilogy was a highly anticipated read.
**WARNING: This review contains unavoidable spoilers for the first two books in this series. It also contains a discussion of the ultimate ending of book 3 (but is marked with spoiler tags below). IF YOU HAVE NOT READ THE FIRST TWO BOOKS IN THIS SERIES, OR DO NOT WISH TO BE SPOILED FOR BOOK 3, LOOK AWAY.**
For eighteen (standard) years, Jarra has yearned for the stars and freedom from her prison of Earth. In the far future, humanity no longer is confined to its one home world–thanks to the miracle of drop portals and Thaddeus Wallam-Crane humans have colonized star systems near and far. But alas! For Jarra and 0.1% of humanity, the stars are forever out of reach thanks to an immune system disorder that prohibits them from portalling off-planet. Jarra, in other words, is Handicapped–or in the ruder parlance of the average human (aka “norms” or the ruder “exos”), she’s an “ape”, a “nean”, a “throwback.” She and the other disabled are forever locked on decrepit, backwater planet Earth, while the rest of humanity has absconded humanity’s cradle for star systems in the far reaches of space (and have evolved their own customs and clans away from the taint of Earth).
But many things have changed for Jarra Tell Morrath in the past year.
After she lied her way into the prestigious University Asgard and tricked her norm classmates into thinking she was one of them and a military child, it turns out that Jarra actually is military and an Honor Child–descended not just of a prestigious Betan clan, but from Tellon Blaze (hero of humanity, scourge of the Chimera) himself! If that isn’t enough, Jarra and her serious boyfriend Fian have also played a hugely instrumental role in making First Contact with an intelligent alien civilization. Using historical and archaeological smarts, Jarra is able to figure out how to communicate with a sphere (actually a probe) floating above Earth.
Now, Jarra is a celebrity–not only is she young, smart, and the initiator of one of the great watershed moments in human history, but she’s Handicapped. Jarra’s celebrity begins to shift radically xenophobic prejudice against the Handicapped–for the first time, average humans start to question the popular portrayal of “apes” as uncivilized, inhuman, unevolved animals. Moreover, public opinion begins to question why laws on Earth are so restrictive and prohibit the Handicapped from rights to self or governance as the awful weight of the social injustice of the state ward system (including but not limited to unethical government-sanctioned experimentation on Handicapped children and the abusive relationships that emerge from this system), and the otherwise utter lack of future options for Handicapped on Earth are finally brought to light.
Jarra has become a symbol and a lightning rod for real change–when her Betan clan formally adopts and recognizes Jarra as one of their own, it goes against every clan tradition and makes a very public declaration that accepts the Handicapped as members of society, entitled to the same basic human rights as any other person. The implications of this act could change everything–not just for Jarra, but for the hundreds, thousands, millions of Handicapped and their family members, who have either hidden the truth or have been punished by the social mores that govern their particular sector.
And this, of course, is the heart of Earth Flight, and Earth Girl as a trilogy. The prejudice against the Handicapped means trouble for Jarra, her classmates and teachers, as well as her loved ones–those who believe the Handicapped to be subhuman will do anything to prevent Jarra from being formally accepted by her clan and exploit any legal loopholes that will end her disgusting betrothal to Fian (a norm). When legal options don’t move quickly enough, physical attacks escalate: a noxious dangerous oil thrown at Jarra leads to a larger dig site bombing; legal blocks turn into targeted, full-fledged aerial attacks.
And all the while, the alien civilization Jarra and Fian made contact with nears, and all of humanity–norm and Handicapped alike–must prepare for the possibility of a hostile new race.
The third and final book in the Earth Girl trilogy, Earth Flight was one of my most highly anticipated books of this year. I love the Indiana Jones meets Battlestar Galactica type sensibility of the series–I mean, anytime you give me archaeological-history-meets-military-scifi blended with strong characterization and thought-provoking examination of social mores and bigotry, I AM ALL YOURS.
Imagine my heartbreak, then, when this third book goes against all of the carefully laid groundwork in the first two installments, turning a careful examination of prejudice, xenophobia, and cultural change into a deeply problematic Happy Ever After that centers upon a magical cure to Jarra’s disability.
Imagine my shock and abject horror at such a conclusion to a trilogy that was so promising and delightfully fun to read–and the questioning of the first two books that inevitably ensues.
Before I get to that, I’ll start with the good things about Earth Flight. For the first 250 pages or so, the novel focuses on Jarra and Fian, and the discussions and change provoked by their relationship. For the first time, in a way that isn’t explored as fully in the other books, we see the grand scope of change that Jarra embodies for all Handicapped humans–from her fellow classmates who have a Handicapped daughter (they’ve moved from Beta sector to Earth at the risk of being ostracized by their own clan to be with that daughter), to other wards of the state system, to notable artists and figures who hide their parentage or Handicapped status behind aliases. These larger, bigger picture ramifications of Jarra’s inclusion are awesome to see unfold, especially in the ways that different cultures from different sectors respond to the Handicapped.
As always, I love Jarra’s voice and her narration throughout the book. The kitschiness of Jarra actually writing these memoirs works, at least for me, as a framing mechanism and the frequent exclamation points and slang offer a sweet authenticity to the narrative. Too, I like the drama-free relationship between Jarra and her boyfriend, Fian, and the fact that they are a functional happy couple that works together, understand each other, and are respectful of each other’s boundaries and viewpoints. I also very much appreciated the careful examination of friendship and enemies in this book–including the fact that just because a young woman treats Jarra with utter disrespect and prejudice, we get to see the other side of her story.
A big, big however.
This brings me to the SPOILER portion of my review–if you do not wish to be spoiled, look away.
In the last 50 pages of this book, Jarra is given a Miracle Cure for her disability. Jarra’s incurable Handicap is magically cured because it’s the only way this super special young woman can save not only her fellow Handicapped, but all of humanity from a pending Chimera attack. (If that wasn’t enough, she also becomes magically more beautiful because of her “cure”–and the preoccupation with physical appearance throughout this book is all the more frustrating and painful to read because of it, in retrospect.) I am not exaggerating when I say that it was all I could do not to fling this book across the subway during rush hour when I got to these pivotal last few chapters. Suffice it to say, this is incredibly problematic and deeply offensive–not only does it negate the careful portrayal of disability and all of the issues raised throughout the book, suggesting that disabled characters cannot have happy endings without magical cures, but it undermines the entire series and the bedrock upon which it was built.
Knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t recommend the series. At the very least, I’d skip this last volume. (Of course if you’re like me, you need to know. Enter at your own peril.)
Rating: 1 – Awful.