Earthgirl is smart, funny, attuned to the times, and completely appropriate for its intended audience. Veteran TV writer Jennifer Cowan has spent the past 20 years writing for such angsty teen shows as Ready or Not and Edgemont, which probably has much to do with the success of her debut novel, chronicling a few months in the life of 16-year-old Sabine Solomon.
After being pelted with the remnants of a “McFatty Meal” thrown from an idling minivan while riding her bike in Toronto’s Kensington Market, Sabine transforms from a typical stuff-obsessed, upper-middle-class teen into “earthgirl,” a budding eco-warrior and blogger. (Much of the book is presented as her blog posts, with comments.) Friends and family quickly tire of being lectured about their eco-unfriendly habits, but supporters of Sabine’s blog and the few like-minded people she meets after swapping her job at the Gap for one at a local organic grocery store enrich her life with their knowledge and encouragement.
There is a boy, of course, who becomes the centre of Sabine’s ever-greener universe. One of Cowan’s most notable accomplishments is in capturing the overwhelming intensity of first love (and other related firsts), and using language that is totally appropriate for a lovestruck teen. (Here is Sabine describing their first kiss: “He leaned forward and kissed me deftly and casually on the mouth. FULL ON THE MOUTH!!!”) As well, the fact that the boyfriend is presented as a fully rounded human being, and not the typical, one-dimensional horny guy, is a nice thing to see in a book obviously geared toward a female readership.
Cowan deftly introduces environmental awareness to her readers through Sabine’s self-education on the subject. The character is always asking questions, and isn’t afraid to admit when she doesn’t understand or know something, leaving the door open for another character to fill in the blanks. Not only is the book entertaining, but it’s educational as well, without being obvious about it.
The only real downside is that the novel is very Toronto-centric, which could alienate anyone who lives outside of the “centre of the universe.” Still, the strength of storytelling, strong plot, and realistic portrayal of young characters should triumph over this trifling detail.