A Problematic Paradox

A Problematic Paradox
Age Range
Release Date
January 23, 2018
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Nikola Kross has given up on living in harmony with classmates and exasperated teachers: she prefers dabbling in experimental chemistry to fitting in. But when her life is axially inverted by a gang of extraterrestrials who kidnap her dad and attempt to recruit her into their service, she discovers he's been keeping a world of secrets from her--including the school for geniuses where she's sent for refuge, a place where classes like Practical Quantum Mechanics are the norm and where students use wormholes to commute to class. For Nikola, the hard part isn't school, it's making friends, especially when the student body isn't (entirely) human. But the most puzzling paradox of all is Nikola herself, who has certain abilities that no one understands--abilities that put her whole school in greater danger than she could have imagined.

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Beware the Old Ones
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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?
Good Points
Readers who enjoy stories set in schools for children with special powers such as Black and Clare's Magisterium series, Bell's Uncommoners, or Nimmo's Charlie Bone will be enthralled with the details of life in The School. The whole town seems to be part of the campus, and the different magical shops and restaurants as well as the great classes and quirky teachers will appeal to those who want to imagine schools where all of the students are magically minded. While Nikola didn't get along perfectly with all of the students, I especially appreciated that there weren't any real enemies for her there, either. Fighting Tabbabitha and the Old Ones was problematic enough!

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.
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