Just in case you don’t have enough summer reading, the Rocket Girls Reading Club offers science fiction featuring girls in space. One that draws a vivid portrait of life on Mars is Journey Between Worlds, by Sylvia Engdahl. Unlike most scifi heroes, the last thing Melinda Ashley wants is to leave home. At first, when her father (who she barely sees) offers her a year on Mars as a graduation present, she can’t even imagine why he is so excited about it. But the prospect leads to a fight with her boyfriend, Russ, and she decides to accept, just so she can get away from him. Which turns out to be a smart move.
Although the book was updated for reissue in 2006 to reflect current knowledge of Mars and to remove some sexist references, Mel is profoundly conservative. She wants to teach because that will give her space in her life to raise a family. She expects to inherit her grandmother’s house. And she hasn’t looked beyond her high school sweetheart for a lifemate.
And for all that, Mel feels very real. She has an opinionated voice and lovely descriptive powers. Her traveling to and then living on Mars are so convincing they are simply part of the story, instead of distracting Big Ideas. As Mel evolves from a space skeptic to a believer in the worthiness of colonizing other planets, even that is only part of watching her grow up and learn to let go of her preconceptions.
Those assumptions are shaken before she even gets on the ship. She meets Alex, who was born on Mars, and is glad to be returning after going to college on Earth. Relentlessly decent, patient, and forgiving, Alex is obviously the Right Man. Even as Mel comes to understand Alex’s growing love for her, she never seems to explicitly realize that her old boyfriend Russ is a possessive jerk. It’s clear where the story is going, and yet I enjoyed it and found the ending unexpectedly moving.