Sophia MacDougall’s Mars Evacuees isn’t my normal fare, but I loved it. It’s on the border between YA (Young Adult) and MG (Middle Grade), which I believe means it’s aimed at ages ten to twelve, and the twelve-year-old in me devoured it happily.
Because I’ve not read much in this genre I may have missed some of the allusions and influences, but this had the charm of a rip-roaring tale of a school-girl hero with the sophistication and finesse brought by an accomplished author fully aware of what has gone before.
Alice is smart (but no genius) likeable (but not too popular) independent (but still vulnerable) and drily humorous. She also likes pink sparkles, and is not ashamed to admit it. Boys as objects of affection don’t feature in her world, but nor should they. She has enough on her plate. As the book’s title implies she is evacuated, from her nice but boring girls’ school on the coast, to Mars. Without straying into spoiler territory I can tell you that her adventures there have camaraderie, aliens, genuinely terrifying foes, Lord of the Flies style anarchy and a robotic talking goldfish which she – and I – started off being infuriated with but ended up caring about.
The book is also extremely funny, in a deliciously understated and very English way. It’s hard to give a flavour of Alice’s marvellously wry observances and improbable yet believable experiences out of context, but try these two quotes: ‘Sometimes I think being in the army is just a little bit like being in a pantomime’ and ‘I woke up some time around noon in the stationery cupboard’.
Highly recommended, for all ages.