Every day is pretty much the same for Tara, but according to her parents, routine is good and important. She just has to keep her head down, graduate high school, and she can work towards her dream of going into space as an astronaut. It takes just one morning of breaking the routine for her entire life to flip upside down—not just some spilled orange juice, but everything she thought she understood about herself (she’s not human), her parents (they aren’t), and the world (aliens are real?!). 

The story focuses on Tara Smith, a teen who until very recently thought she was human. She’s given the option to go to a special school for aliens seeking citizenship or to be sent into space. She chooses school, but has trouble adjusting to the apparent strangeness of everyone. Her roommate Summer is an especially bad case. Summer’s human form is pink haired and perky, which makes her feels like a Starfire or Miss Martian knockoff. When she reveals her alien form to Tara, which is of course large and not classically feminine by human standards, Tara screams, burns Summer, and runs away.

As the weeks pass and Tara gets more comfortable, she continues to be confronted with new information she has to process and use to break down old concepts. Eventually, Tara and Summer make up, but Summer is never quite as cheerful as she was and things are a little strained. Thankfully, we see Tara go through growth in her relationships with multiple characters, and the volume ends with her confronting the people she used to think were her parents, working together with her new friends, and finding out the school has to move because the site is now compromised. It’s a lot of ground to cover, but the comic gets the big concepts across well, at the cost of losing some smaller moments.

The art of School for Extraterrestrial Girls has a very smooth, low detail look often seen in webcomics that can be very appealing, especially as webcomics continue to climb in popularity. Backgrounds in panels are often simple without feeling generic, very clearly drawn to give an understanding of location and action. Facial expressions are where the art really shines; even in some of the moments that can be harder to convey, the artist captures very vivid emotion in every character’s face. Another great detail is that there are a number of body types (when we’re looking at humanoid bodies; there are myriad alien body types also represented), ages, physical ability, and ethnicities represented in the comic. Heck, the two main adults in the story are both older appearing women with very different bodies and aesthetic choices. I’m not sure if it lessens the impact knowing that also, almost no one in the comic is human, or not. 

While the writing in the comic is pretty solid, it has some weaker moments and the story as a whole wraps up awfully neatly. In some ways, it feels like an older sitcom, with the family all smiling at the camera as they discuss the moral of today’s story. I’m not sure if that’s purposeful, but I’m guessing it is, considering how much of the story is really about acceptance and understanding, both internal and external. Some of the comedic moments feel really forced, like the continued joke about the main character’s name that’s never actually explained in-text (and I will admit, took me longer to figure out than I’d like).

At first the premise may seem somewhat unusual, but the core story of learning to accept truths about the world and differences in others is pretty universal and can be a great addition to a younger teen or middle grade audience that doesn’t feel too preachy. And though it centers on aliens, the sci-fi elements are approachable for readers less interested in that genre.  Considering this is labeled as #1, I’m guessing there are plans to continue this series, something to consider for collection development if readers want more of Tara’s adventures. Currently, though, the first volume works very well as a standalone story.

School for Extraterrestrial Girls, vol. 1: Girl on Fire
By Jeremy Whitley
Art by Jamie Noguchi
ISBN: 9781545804926
Papercutz, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: all ages
Series ISBNS and Order

Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13)

  • Shannan

    | She/They Teen Services Librarian, San Antonio Public Library

    Features Writer

    Shannan waffled between English professor and librarian as career choices for all of college; eventually librarian won. She is a Teen Services Librarian with the San Antonio Public Library. When not running TTPRG games for their teens or teaching them how to bake, she's doing what she can to promote comics to anyone who will listen. At home they're likely deep in the middle of their latest cosplay project or watching B movies with her husband, while generally pushing the cats out of the way.

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