There are worse sources for an author to borrow from than the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series by the late Douglas Adams. Though Adams was ostensibly writing for adults, his irreverent approach to the idea of intergalactic adventure, and delight in satirizing the absurdities of human behaviour, made the books ideal for the kind of young reader who suspects the grown-up world is one alien invasion away from falling apart.
There are strong echoes of Adams’s space anti-epic in the first novel by Stratford, Ontario, author Gareth Wronski, most obviously in the voice of the book’s robotic narrator, but also in the story’s basic premise, in which a relatively unhappy Earthling discovers a drama playing out in space – and that some of the people around her already know about it. Holly Farb is a middle-schooler who, despite her best efforts, is a complete zero popularity-wise. So when some weird-looking strangers approach her at school and ask if she’s a princess, Holly lets them believe she is.
The strangers turn out to be ruthless space pirates, who kidnap Holly, along with one of her classmates and a teacher. After escaping the pirates and stowing away on an intergalactic cruise liner, Holly finds out her teacher has been to space plenty of times before. More importantly, her classmate is the actual princess in disguise. The trio acquire an obnoxious know-it-all robot companion (who turns out to be the story’s obnoxious know-it-all narrator) and get thrown into perilous situation after perilous situation, all in an effort to save the princess from the relentless space pirates.
Wronski’s tale goes heavy on the slapstick and silliness, but takes a lot of surprisingly serious turns. There are some scary moments here, too. (A scene in the nest of spider-like space librarians is more than a little reminiscent of Aliens, in a good way. Homages to Star Wars abound, too.) The moral of the story – that people need to be true to themselves, even if it means walking out on a more seemingly stable future – is an oddly sophisticated one for a goofy middle-grade space adventure. Wronski packs a lot into his debut, and if some of the elements are less than original, the results are too fun and high-spirited to complain about.