A Problematic Paradox

352p. Putnam. Jan. 2018. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781524738457.
Gr 5–8—Stuck in a jet-propelled trailer during an escape from an alien gang, Nikola Kross muses, "Before long, I would either be safe or dead. Either way, my problems were over." Despite the fact that Nikola is a certified genius, about this, she is wrong. Between alien invasions, the mysterious disappearance of her father, a rocket-powered mobile home, and a strange arrival at an even stranger school in the middle of nowhere, her troubles are only beginning. Sappingfield's debut is smart, energetic, and original. The writing is light and humorous as it tackles a super-galactic adventure. Nikola's spinning, whizzing inner monologue and sardonic take on the world around her are amusing, but they often alienate her from her peers (or, as her guidance counselor Ms. Hiccup terms them, "horrible people" whose parents are "horrible people," in an uneasy confirmation of Nikola's somewhat smug superiority). Given that she's led a nomadic life without a mother and with a detached father who is brilliant himself, it's easy to see why she would have developed a protective, incisive sense of humor by middle school. She much prefers solo scientific experimentation to social activities. But once she lands at a secret school for geniuses like her, she finds that all the puzzling in the world can't guarantee an answer to the most perplexing question of all: who she is herself. While the subject matter (secret abilities, extraterrestrials) will please a middle grade audience, at times the references and tone skew toward older readers.
VERDICT Though some jokes may soar over middle grade heads, most readers will willingly jump with Nikola into the nearest wormhole and next adventure.

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