Top critical review
Good effort for a great cause
Reviewed in the United States on June 22, 2015
I bought BRAVE NEW GIRLS because it's for a good cause and because one of my new favorite writers is involved and she's been promoting the hell out of both the book and its mission to fund a scholarship for girls who want to study science and engineering.
As you'd expect from a bumper collection of eighteen stories all by different writers, the quality is a bit up and down, but when BRAVE NEW GIRLS is good, it's really very good. I can recommend it both to fans of the genre and to the parents (and others) of those middle-school girls who might benefit from a role model or two.
The best of the stories here are those that do not patronize their characters and readers and yet still remember exactly how it felt to be a teenage girl. There are also moments of quiet subversion: A space girl with two dads? A ship's mind that swaps gender at will? More of this stuff, please. However, some of the contributors to BRAVE NEW GIRLS may have become so entangled in their big idea or cause that they forgot how to tell a story. The biggest flaw, I think, lies in the editing. There are very few typos - I only noticed a handful - but some of these brave new writers would have benefited from a little more help. They've been allowed to make too many mistakes. Their dialog can be wooden and stilted. Their characterization shallow. Their writing repetitious and lacking in verve. They are over-ready to over-explain their worlds rather than allow us to see them for ourselves. And their stories sometimes take wild leaps to "twist" endings that are not even remotely justified by anything that has happened up until that point.
Fortunately, there are many excellent stories here as well. Some re-purposed fairytales - a growing trend in YA science fiction. Others like Martin Berman-Gorvine's OF CAT'S WHISKERS AND KLUTZES create their own fairy-tale world. Josh Pritchett's ROBOT REPAIR GIRL is snappy and confident. GRAVEYARD SHIFT by Kimberly G Giarratano suffers a little from the curse of the explanation bug but is more than saved by the otherwise very strong writing. And Tash McAdam's PANIC is a whole mess of fun when it should be - Google is a curse word - but the author also manages to write a sense of real panic into every sentence of the all-important scene. PANIC is a particularly powerful contribution with a hero who makes the journey from caution to courage and determination.
The best known writer here is the best selling romantic thriller novelist Kate Moretti. A scientist herself, her time travel story BLINK has all the polish you might expect from a writer with her track record but I was a little surprised by the inconsistent cultural references - Bad News Bears and DeLoreans - which again made me question the editing. I get the references, but will the average thirteen-year-old girl?
George Ebey's HELEN OF MARS is a well-crafted little story that combines drone and video game culture with mining on Mars and a teenager who can and definitely will. This is a theme that Stephen Kozeniewski also makes his own. In the excellent KEYS TO THE STARS, he gives teenage Judy a moment of inspiration that motivates her throughout her whole life. This is the whole point of BRAVE NEW GIRLS, to encourage teenage girls to pursue careers in science and engineering. Writers like Ebey and Kozeniewski have taken that goal literally. Others have used the BRAVE NEW GIRLS framework to tell a different kind of tale and the two best stories here are actually very similar, although they're also entirely different.
In COURAGE IS and TAKE A HACKER, Evangeline Jennings and Mary Fan both write about hacking and unlikely friendships. Fan's Jane Colt is surprised to find herself befriending and protecting Vieve who has become a cyborg after a terrible accident while Jennings' Gracie goes to extremes defending the physical body of the comatose Georgie who she knows only as a consciousness within the dataverse. Both these talented writers show us hacking as an adventure into virtual reality. Jane Colt breaks into a judge's computer in search of the evidence she needs to save Vieve while Gracie hacks an interstellar spaceship the size of a small planet and almost literally surfs the data flows. While Fan explores Jane's relationship with her first boyfriend and her friendship with Vieve, Jennings' younger Gracie struggles with her feelings as her lifelong friends grow away from her, only to take hope and find solace in Georgie.
Mary Fan's TAKE A HACKER is a simple story at heart: a powerful bad guy is defeated and unlikely girls become firm friends. COURAGE IS is different. It's a nerdtastic and occasionally hilarious romp through conventions and tropes. I picture Evangeline Jennings, who more often writes like a feminist Tarantino on speed, cackling to herself as she threw in Star Wars and Agatha Christie jokes, poked fun at religion, and, best of all, named her Civilization Class Vessel after the most unlikely person I can conceive of. But for all the murder, subterfuge, and interstellar hi-jinxs, COURAGE IS is, in its last moments, an utterly human and touching story about friendship. I would read more about Jane Colt, Gracie, and Georgie.