I’m not always a fan of novel adaptations based on other media. Oftentimes it feels derivative or wholly unnecessary, and I’d rather just enjoy the story in its original form than have it retold in a new format. That being said, Squirrel Meets World was a pleasant surprise. More than that, actually: it rocked my socks.
Before we dig into it, let’s clarify a few things: I abso-freaking-lutely LOVE Squirrel Girl, so I was kind of destined to enjoy this book. Mistah J gave it to me as a “just because” present, and I read it that very same week. THAT’S HOW EXCITED I WAS (for context: normally books sit on my “to be read” shelf for ages because I just have too many). This is a pictureless chapter book, aimed at young girls roughly age-nine and up.
I’m a lot closer to the “up” than nine, but that doesn’t change how awesome the story is.
I began reading with some trepidation. Unlike the super-awesome-no-really-you-should-go-buy-it-right-now comic series being published by Marvel, written by Ryan North, this story had a new creative team: Shannon Hale and Dean Hale. One of the many things I love about “The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl” series is the sharp, heartfelt writing, and I worried that another writer might miss the mark and reshape this beloved character’s story to be all wrong.
Alas, my fears were unfounded, because this book is AWESOME. While the comics all take place while Doreen is in college, the book is set during her early high school years, so while not explicitly stated, the book can serve as a prequel of sorts to the comics. This is most explicitly noted when Doreen flippantly comments on her interest in computer science and how maybe one day she’ll even study it in college, which she actually does go on to major in within the comic series.
In Squirrel Meets World, Doreen Green has just moved to New Jersey (shout-out to my home state!) and is feeling a bit lost. She had to leave all of her friends behind, and is struggling to meet new people. Compounding this fact is that she must hide her enormous squirrel tail, something she was born with but which her parents have refused to allow her to share with the world (parents, am I right?) Along the way she befriends Ana Sofia, a classmate who is deaf and wears a hearing aid (a wonderful detail that made me smile, partially due to the inclusive feeling of the character, partially due to their constant references to sign language, which I studied in college. BONUS POINTS FOR CONNECTIONS!), Rounding out the group is Tippy-Toe, a tough-talking tree squirrel from her neighborhood.
The story is a bit of an origin. Although Doreen was born with her squirrel tail, she didn’t realize all of the amazing squirrel abilities she has, such as leaping great distances and having insane squirrel strength (apparently those little guys are crazy strong). The story follows Doreen as she realizes that maybe, just maybe, she could be a superhero (just like her idol, She-Hulk). She faces numerous obstacles along the way, one of the biggest being her own insecurities, as she faces the inevitable backlash from others who question whether she’s a hero or a menace. The novel crescendos with Squirrel Girl battling a mystery villain who has set his/her sights on destroying our fluffy-tailed hero.
I don’t want to give too much of the plot away; the story is just too good to spoil. The action scenes are exciting, creating a kinetic feeling despite the lack of any pictures. While I haven’t been a kid for a while, the writing feels fitting for the age group it targets, yet as an adult I never felt bored. This truly felt like a book that can be enjoyed by all ages.
What stands out most of all though is the characterization. The book switches narrators each chapter, so we cycle between Doreen, Ana Sofia, Tippy Toe, and the masked villain. This keeps the story fresh, changing the perspective and allowing the reader to get a better picture of each main character. Tippy Toe is perhaps my favorite narrator, simply because her description of squirrel world and squirrel culture is so awesome. Squirrels talk with there own unique lingo, and it was so creative and unexpected that I found myself looking forward to the Tippy-centric chapters just so I could read more.
Squirrel Meets World really has it all. The writers capture the essence of Squirrel Girl perfectly, infusing the story with comedy, action, and heart in a way that is so perfectly Doreen. She has her moments of self-doubt, but in the end she always realizes how truly awesome she is, knowing that she is capable of anything. As though that weren’t enough, the novel slips little life lessons into the stories, and since the characters are so likable, you actually believe them:
“You can’t pay attention to the internet”, said Ana Sofia. “It’s full of sad little trolls with no life beyond mocking those who actually try to do good things, while craving the pathetic attention they get from slinging their nastiness around.”
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Meets World, page 235
Each generation has its own hazards they have to dodge at this age, and I can personally attest to the fact that it’s incredibly helpful to have lovable characters address these issues, however briefly. AT the very least it provides a quick reminder to not let these things get to you. The specifics change, but the inherent importance of such messages never changes. My point? This book has plenty of silly moments, but at its core it’s a well-thought out message to young readers. That, to me, is more important than anything else.
I spent the whole novel imagining that this was a direct prequel to the comics, and while that may not be entirely true, it’s so much more fun to pretend. Whether this is a purely standalone novel or the beginning of a series, I’m glad the Squirrel Girl universe has been expanded. Squirrel Meets World gives us just enough to fit perfectly into the Squirrel Girl mythos, including how she met Tippy, references to her old friend Monkey Joe (!!!) and the origin of her super amazing catchphrase, “Eat Nuts, Kick Butts”. I loved following Doreen on her journey to becoming a superhero, and heartily recommend this to anyone who’s a fan of uplifting, hilarious stories about squirrels, girls, and squirrel girls.
Seriously, read the book.
Read the comics.
Squirrel Girl is more awesome than a basket full of nuts.
Nay, TWO baskets full of nuts.
That’s right I said it. She’s that cool.