After wandering the cosmos searching for home, Zita has compiled quite a list of accomplishments and acts of derring-do and she has saved multiple planets and species. But that was in the first two books.
This third volume in Hatke’s series features the titular heroine on trial for crimes committed while in the pursuit of a greater good. Sentenced to a life of hard labor in the mines, she is forced to search for a jump crystal that the villainous dungeon master will use to conquer earth.
If that all sounds grim, it could be—in the hands of another storyteller. Hatke, however, never loses a sense of hope and humor throughout the book. Even in the dungeons, Zita finds new friends (a talking pile of rags and a living skeleton) that bring levity into the situation. Ultimately, when Zita prevails, it is because of the friendships she has made, an appealing message for a tale aimed at youth. And beyond the happy feelings that adults will have about that message, kids will return to the series for the joy of seeing their favorite characters reappear.
Hatke has built a remarkable, vibrant world full of engaging characters that readers will want to return to again and again. I cheered when Strong-Strong entered the story. And everyone will be happy to see the setup for future volumes at the end of the story.
As a feminist, I love that Zita is a strong, non-sexualized female character who has as many adventures as any male protagonist. She is exactly the type of role model that girls (and boys, since this will appeal to both genders) should be exposed to more often. She fights and wins but never loses her compassion or gives up on her friends. At one point, she even refuses being saved by an older man because, after all, she has her own spaceship. That’s a great metaphor—it’s nice to have friends who want to help, but it’s even better to have your own way out, too. And all of this is accomplished without the sense that Zita is overtly trying to be feminist or a role model.
I was delighted to read in the afterword that Zita was originally the creation of Hatke’s wife. The sketches and insight into the creative process are a welcome addition to the series.
The artwork in the third volume continues to be bright and colorful (full color on every page). It is cheerfully cartoonish, but in an adventurous style, not a silly style. And the artwork’s upbeat color palette adds to the aura of lightheartedness of the story without ever venturing into the garish or cliché. Much of the art is displayed in a variety of panel styles and layouts, but often they contain more action than text for pages on end. This would make the book a great choice for struggling or reluctant readers.
Returning readers and librarians will absolutely be thrilled to add the latest volume to their collection. And if you have not yet ventured into Zita’s world, now would be a perfect time to introduce it to your favorite elementary school aged youth. However, you might want to start with volume one, as this one picks up mid-action which could be confusing for some readers.
The Return of Zita the Spacegirl, vol. 3
by Ben Hatke
First Second, 2014
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12 years