Nikola Kross is a bit of a social outcast, and her guidance conselour (whom she calls "Ms. Hiccup") advises her to try to make herself less of a target. That's hard for Nikola to do, considering that her mother went missing when she was very young, and her father is an eccentric scientific inventor who has set up two mobile homes inside an abandoned SuperMart in North Dakota for the two to live in. When she is accosted on the way home from school by a very weird girl named Tabbabitha, Nikola is very worried when she gets home and her father is nowhere to be found in their compound. When she is later attacked and manages to run off, Ms. Hiccup appears, saying that she was given a pager by Nikola's father, with the instructions that she was to pick up Nikola and drive her to a specific location if the pager ever went off. The two head to Iowa ("On purpose?"), follow circuitous directions, are attacked by a swarm of enormous bees, and finally end up at The School. Nikola's father is a friend of the founder of this institution, Dr. Plaskington, who doesn't seem surprised that Nikola's father was abducted. The Old Ones are on the move, and everyone in the school is preparing for them to attack. Nikola manages to settle in as much as possible, and actually make a friend in her roommate, Hypatia. For once, the scientific curriculum and geeky classmates make her feel right at home. Tabbabitha is still a threat, and The School is preparing its students to fight the Old Ones. Will it be enough preparation for Nikola to survive and locate her father?
I almost wish that we had seen more of Nikola's daily life in the SuperMart before her father was kidnapped. What an imaginative setting. I especially liked her description later in the book of how her father cleaned-- when things got bad enough, he just replaced the mobile homes! Don't we all dream of that when contemplating the area behind the refrigerator?
Having Nikola be the heroine of a science infused story line is quite a nice idea, since girls are often underrepresented in science fiction tales. This reminded me quite a bit of Jennifer Strange in Jasper Fforde's The Chronicles of Kazam, or Lucy Carlisle in Stroud's Lockwood and Company. Of course, the missing father makes definite parallels to the newly REpopular A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle. It's good to be reminded that girls can vaporize aliens just as well, if not better, than the boys.