Friday, June 16, 2006

Fourth Book: Journey Between World by Sylvia Louise Engdahl

228 pages, read from Friday 11:30 p.m. to 1 a.m., Saturday, 3:15 p.m. to 4:40, 3 hours

(My personal rules for the book challenge don't allow rereading, but I actually forgot that I had already read this; it was only once, almost 30 years ago.)

First off, let me say this book has a terrific cover. In the publicity for its reissue, Engdahl has emphasized that it's a romance, presumably not wanting people to expect something similar to her serious YA science fiction novels, and the Manga-looking drawing of a girl in stylish space gear, rather dejectedly holding a bouquet of roses, couldn't say "science-fiction chick-lit" any better.

Journey Between Worlds is the story of Melinda, who having graduated high school expects to marry her boyfriend, settle down in her home town, and never budge again. Her plans take a detour when her father gives her a ticket to Mars as a graduation present--and when her boyfriend's obnoxious reaction to the idea convinces her to use it. Melinda doesn't expect much from the primitive, colonial world of Mars; she can't even understand why anyone would live there by choice. Even when she begins to have feelings for Alex, a returning "Martian" she meets aboard ship, she can't imagine giving up life on Earth to be with him... can she?

Originally published in 1970, this story remains Engdahl's slightest work. In an afterward, she mentions making small changes for the 2006 edition, mainly to update views about women, marriage and careers. Nonetheless, the first-person narrative retains a squeaky-clean 1960's feel, like Beany Malone or Up a Road Slowly in space.

But there's also an older tradition being followed here, that of books like Christy or Mrs. Mike, about a young woman leaving behind the comforts of "civilization" to become a pioneer. The heart of Journey Between Worlds is the belief that exploration is necessary to the human spirit, as well as to mankind's ultimate survival. Engdahl wrote about this same theme in her other YA books, in ways I personally find more compelling... but there's nothing wrong with also delivering the idea with a bouquet or roses. (12 & up)

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