The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Meets World, by Shannon and Dean Hale – review by Fred Patten
by Patch O'Furr
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Meets World, by Shannon Hale & Dean Hale. Illustrated by Bruno Mangyoku.
NYC, Marvel Press, February 2017, hardcover $13.99 (324 [+ 1] pages), Kindle $9.99.
The Marvel Comics Group is having hardcover novelizations written of most of its high-profile super-heroes such as Iron Man, for the 9-to-12 age group. Marvel does not go in for animal heroes, so the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl and her 300 squirrels are about the only ones who would qualify for interest to furry fans. New York Times bestselling author Shannon Hale specializes in romantic novels for adolescent girls and young women, many in collaboration with her husband, Dean Hale.
This novel recounts the beginning of Squirrel Girl’s career, written in a breezy teenager’s diary style. The comic book stories began in 1991 with her as a 21-year-old college student, but here 14-year-old Doreen Green has just moved with her parents from Southern California to Shady Oaks, New Jersey. “Who runs the world? Squirrels!” Doreen may be prejudiced because she was born with a bushy squirrel’s tail. Otherwise she looks like any young teenage girl, except that she’s super-strong and has retractable claws and “her two front teeth were a little longer than their neighbors. She had to gnaw on things to keep them from getting even longer. Things like logs.” (p. 2) Maple logs are her favorite.
No reason is given for her having a squirrel’s tail, but Hey! this is the Marvel Universe. Doreen used to see She-Hulk while she lived in Los Angeles, and now she’s looking forward to seeing Thor and the other Avengers who live in nearby New York City.
Doreen is hiding her tail in her pants because a 9th-grader with a bushy tail would look kind of freaky*. She left all her old friends, human and squirrel, back in L.A. and she’s looking forward to making new ones. The human teenagers in Shady Oaks are a bit standoffish, but when Doreen climbs a tree in a city park, she runs into a squirrel being squeezed to death in “some kind of weird squirrel death trap.” She frees the squirrel, who runs off.
The squirrel is Tippy-Toe, and that’s how she and Doreen meet. Tippy-Toe and Doreen’s mother Maureen are the only other characters from the Marvel comic book; everyone else is original for this novel. So it doesn’t duplicate from the comic books, just in case you’re familiar with Squirrel Girl’s career. Chapters narrated by Tippy-Toe are in the first person and are slightly more mature. Tippy-Toe acknowledges that the human girl saved her life, she follows her to her human nest, and at night they talk together in the squirrel’s language of Chitterspeak. Doreen gives Tippy-Toe a pink ribbon to wear around her neck. Tippy-Toe is her first friend.
At Union Junior High, Doreen is frozen out by the girls’ cliques. Her first human BFF is Ana Sofia Arcos Romero, another loner because she’s Hispanic and almost totally deaf. Doreen knows Ameslan, American Sign Language because she has a Canadian cousin who’s deaf, so she and Ana Sofia have long conversations in sign language. This just gets them a reputation as being super-weird with the other kids.
Doreen’s first outings as a super-hero (I’d say super-heroine, but apparently that’s sexist) are at night away from street lights. She puts trash back in garbage cans that juvenile delinquents have tipped over, and cleans up graffiti, taking advantage of the dark to let her tail out of her pants and to use her super-strength to leap away or up into a tree to escape notice. She gets a reputation as the Jersey Ghost. Only Ana Sofia and the squirrels know her secret.
Tippy-Toe takes Doreen as a role model and decides to become a hero for the squirrels. They can use one, because whoever set out that squeeze-to-death cage that caught her sets out a lot more, marked MM, for both tree squirrels and ground squirrels. Other tree squirrels include Little Candy Creeper, Fuzz Fountain Cortez, Bear Bodkin, Bubo Nic, and W. Scummerset Maugham, while the ground squirrels have names like Big Daddy Spud, Miranda Creepsforth, Puffin Furslide, and Pug Muffintop. (There are two pages of squirrel names like Suzie Skunkkiller and Henry Hexapod, and I’m not going to quote them all.)
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Meets World is almost halfway through before the plot picks up speed. Doreen gets her Squirrel Girl secret identity. She foils a carjacking, and rescues an endangered baby. She rescues two endangered babies (sort of):
“Ana Sofia [texting]: Good I know ur grounded but a balloon got loose
Doreen: You really need to tie those things to your wrist
Ana Sofia: No srsly I was sleuthing near the burger frog grand opening. A hot air balloon got untethered and is floating away. A man and woman are screaming that their baby is on the balloon” (p. 131)
And she gains her first super-foe; whoever is saturating Shady Oaks with those MM death traps for squirrels. Okay, he’s only a minor super-villain, but she’s only 14 years old. And he is trying to kill her.
There are guest appearances by the Avengers, and even Rocket from the Guardians of the Galaxy turns up for four pages toward the end. Squirrel Girl and Ana Sofia take care of the human side of things, and Tippy-Toe leads the 300 squirrels:
“‘This is where we hold them,’ I shouted. ‘On this abandoned field, this is where we fight! Whether we crush them by acorn or shred them by claw! Remember this day, squirrels, for it will be yours for all time!’
‘CHK-CHA!’ the army responded.
‘Squirrels, what is your profession?’
‘NUTS AND DEATH!’ came the reply.
‘This day we rescue an ignorant world from destruction!’ I said. ‘We protect a world that would call us vermin! Why do we do this? Because we are mighty! Because we are valiant! BECAUSE WE ARE SQUIRRELS!’” (pgs. 288-289)
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Meets World (cover by Bruno Mangyoku) isn’t really illustrated. Mangyoku, a French commercial artist, has done the front and back covers, the endpapers, and one page of Tippy-Toe demonstrating nine martial-arts poses. That’s all.
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Book 2, also by the Hales, will be published in March 2018.
*Fortunately, a squirrel’s tail is flexible and mostly air, and it folds up inside pants really easily, although it does make Doreen look like she has a big butt. Squirrel Meets World has over a hundred footnotes like this.
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