Review by Win Wiacek
Once upon a time, stories designed to enthral and entertain young girls were a prolific staple of comics output, and they have enjoyed a splendid resurgence – particularly in America – as the graphic novel market expanded to its current prominence. This enticing premier volume from Jeremy Whitley magnificently captures a few contemporary zeitgeists that seem certain to generate huge interest and probably a TV series. The understated, functional yet inviting TV animation-style illustration of Jamie Noguchi keeps everything snappy, believable and rattling along.
Tara Smith is 15, smart, diligent and extremely hard-working. She obeys her rather strict, cold parents and strives at all times to be good and succeed in all her endeavours. In her most private moments, she stares at the stars and feels that one day she will be extraordinary, especially if she manages to fulfil her longed-for destiny.
She is admittedly a bit odd. Her life is totally regulated and Tara takes special medicine every day. She also wears an electronic medical alarm bracelet 24/7 as well as an heirloom necklace. She never, ever takes them off. However, even though her life is one of unremitting routine, one day the alarm clock doesn’t go off and Tara will never be the same again.
As a result of the timing malfunction and rushing for the school bus, Tara forgets to take her pills. It’s a day for disasters. She trips, breaks her bracelet and, even after frantically making it to school on time, feels weird all day. After terrorising her classmates and making an exhibition of herself, Tara ends the day by catching on fire, rushing through the school like a human torch and passing out in the showers.
When she awakens, she’s in a freezer with her bracelet missing and confronted by the formidable presence of female MIB Agent Stone. When she makes Tara remove the necklace the terrified girl instantly transforms into a reptilian being and catches fire again. Suspicions confirmed, Stone swiftly explains some unsavoury facts of life to her shellshocked captive. Before long Tara is despatched to a very special top-secret school built to house and safeguard girls just like her: young alien refugees abandoned or trapped on Earth and educated under the directives of numerous clandestine treaties, all unsuspected by the greater mass of humanity which still believes itself to be the only life in the universe.
Thus begins a thrilling epic as Tara gradually assimilates into her new school (Blacksite 513 AKA The School for Extraterrestrial Girls), making friends, enemies and many, many mistakes as she slowly uncovers the secrets of her hidden past and an awful truth regarding her own existence on Earth.
Championing diversity and tolerance, whilst subtly addressing issues of gender, puberty and peer acceptance, this rollicking action romp successfully blends and updates the traditional girls boarding school/extraordinary chums model that was the backbone of British girls comics for decades. It now seems set to shape the lives of another generation of youngsters looking for understanding and a few appropriate role models.
Irresistible fun no one should miss and available in hardcover, paperback and digital editions, School for Extraterrestrial Girls is drama and thrills in perfect balance to delight any young adult or wistfully nostalgic parent or guardian.