Book Review: Girl Reporter by Tansy Rayner Roberts

28 Dec

 

Living up to the standards of your mother is no easy thing sometimes. Especially when you are Friday Valentina, daughter of Tina Valentina. Tina Valentina broke barriers as a girl reporter interviewing the Australian superhero Solar and breaking news about Australian superheroes for decades. To this day, Tina Valentina is THE Girl Reporter. That’s a lot to live up to.

Living in the 21st century, instead of writing for outfits like Women’s Weekly, Friday has a YouTube channel where she covers superheroes in her own way, like mother, like daughter. Hey, she’s just gotten one million hits on her channel. Friday’s huge! She’s also grown up in a world where superheroes are real and a thing, and she is possibly the daughter of one, or at least all the gossip and tabloids suggest so anyway. Her mother doesn’t talk about that either.  

So in a 21st century world where superheroes are a thing and you are trying to follow in your mother’s trailblazing path…and your mother suddenly disappears, then your course of action is clear: Use your skills and existing connections to Australia’s superheroes to go find her. Rescue Mom, get the story. Even if dimension hopping is involved. Even if secrets about your Mom’s history, and the history of Australian superheroes get exposed in the process.

This is Friday Valentina’s story in Tansy Rayner Roberts’ YA novella Girl Reporter, from the Booksmugglers Novella Initiative.

Girl Reporter is not the first story in this verse that Roberts has written. Previously, her story “Cookie Cutter Superhero” in the award-winning Kaleidoscope anthology introduced the superhero world that we see here. Kid Dark Against the Machine, her second story, continued that exploration of a world where superhero-creating machines arrived in the early 1980s, and so nations around the world started creating superheroes, useful in a world of supervillains, invaders from other planets and dimensions, and the general mayhem that you find in comic-book universes. Given that Girl Reporter has a superhero enthusiast as its protagonist, the infodumping of what we need to understand how this universe came about is efficient and easy. You don’t need to read the previous stories to grok this world, but you may want to read them after you’ve read this anyway. Characters from those stories appear here in this narrative.

Writing stories, as opposed to comics or movies, in a comic-book world is not always the easiest trick to pull off. Comic-book universes are a visual medium by design, using image — be it on page or screen — to convey what words find it more difficult to pull off. (And let me put in here, now, that I think that the cover for Girl Reporter, by Emma Glaze, is fantastic). Given that Roberts focuses on an intensely person-, character- and dialogue-driven story, she overcomes the natural disadvantages of taking to type exclusively to tell a superhero story and instead dives deeply into the richness of her protagonist and the characters around her. Friday is intensely interesting as a protagonist, and her voice as a character is strong and marked.

For all the of the entertainment value of the story, the story also asks and answers and debates questions about representation (of various forms), cultural appropriation, own voices, and much more. This is a seriously and strongly written story of our cultural moment, and it is not one that could have been easily published 20, 10 or perhaps even 5 years ago. Come for the Girl Reporter trying to find her Mom, stay for the 21st century universe of characters and ideas that we deserve.

The novella ends with an essay on Lois Lane (the ur-character for any Girl Reporter character in fiction, obviously), a strong piece on her history and role and development that is nearly worth the price of admission on its own.

In the end, Tansy Rayner Roberts proves, as a writer, feminist, and a person, you don’t need spandex to be your own hero.

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