By DAPHNE LEE
From Tots to Teens 29th May 2011
I WANTED to review Warp Speed (Scholastic Press, 311 pages, ISBN: 978-0545122764) by Lisa Yee for three reasons: Firstly, the main character, Marley Sandelski, is a Star Trek fan (as am I); secondly, I thought my son would enjoy reading the book too as he is a Trekker as well; and finally, because it is set in Rancho Rosetta, the same town in which Yee’s books Millicent Min, Girl Genius, Standford Wong Flunks Big-Time and So Totally Emily Ebers are set (I love those books). In fact, Marley first appears in Standford Wong and Yee decided to give him his own book when, during a school visit, a reader asked her about the character.
seventh grade, Standford barely acknowledges Marley. “Invisible” is how Marley feels – alone and
insignificant. When Marley does get noticed, it’s by a gang of bullies (he calls them the Gorn, after
alien beasts from an episode in Star Trek: The Original Series), and a classmate who strong-arms
Marley into doing his homework for him.
The only thing that keeps Marley sane is the AV Club, recording his experiences into his notebook
(the Captain’s Log) and anticipating the coming Star Trek convention (he keeps the money he's saved for the ticket in a Star Trek cookie jar).
Actually, Marley isn’t totally friendless. However, despite his low social status, he’s still surprisingly picky about the company he keeps. For instance, he’s less than enthusiastic about Star Wars fanatic and fellow AV Club member Ramen – as far Marley’s concerned both of them are outsiders and the only reason they hang out together is because no one else wants to hang out with either of them.
Emily Ebers is more Marley’s idea of a friend worth having. He’s really taken with her, up to the
point of spending his savings, meant for a Star Trek convention, on new clothes and a haircut just to impress her. I wondered about this at first – would Marley, who lives and breathes Star Trek, give up a convention for a girl? On reflection, and after casting my mind back several years to my foolish youth, I think he would and I believe this is what makes Lisa Yee such a good writer – she hasn’t forgotten the way kids think and act.
I find that the teenage characters I create are often too sensible and logical. I think in their stead,
with the insight and hindsight of an adult, and this makes them behave too reasonably and rationally to be believable.
Yee’s characters are real. So real that they make you feel as annoyed and exasperated as actual
teenagers do. When Marley refuses to tell a grown-up that he’s being bullied, you want shake him
and say, “What’s wrong with you? This is not about being a snitch, it’s about defending yourself.”
Marley’s friend, Max, can’t understand it either, but then she’s not the one being bullied. I think
Yee’s portrayal of Marley rings true. Like many victims, he feels alone and helpless, yet the way he
copes – the only way he knows how, by running away (at warp speed, almost) – reveals a source of
strength that he is able to eventually draw on as a catalyst for change.
I loved this book as much as I loved Yee’s other Rancho Rosetta titles. Like Millicent, Standford and Emily, Marley isn’t just a character, he’s someone you decide you want to be friends with and not lose touch with. The same goes for his friends Ramen and Max who, fingers crossed, will get to tell their own stories before too long.
Well, although Marley is a TOS devotee and I’m more into Voyager, I liked all the Star Trek
references – the journal which he writes in Star Trek code and calls the Captain’s Log; the way he
likens things that happen to him to challenges faced by Kirk in various TOS episodes; his tendency to lapse into Klingon whenever he’s nervous; the Spock ears he wears as a source of inspiration; and how, when faced with a decision, he asks himself, “What would Spock do?”
As for my son, he liked the book too. He did say that with a title like Warp Speed, he expected it to contain a lot more Trek stuff, but then he now also wants to read Yee’s other books.