School for Extraterrestrial Girls: Girl on Fire by Jeremy Whitley and Jamie Noguchi

[Image ID: A panel of Tara, a 15 year old Black girl, adjusting a bracelet on her wrist. The text boxes of internal monologue read: "I eve have this bracelet. I'm not really sure how it works, but my parents say it's vital to my health to keep it on. So, I do. It's important to do as you're told." The Snapchat caption reads "That's not sus at all." End ID]

To start with a quick summary: Tara Smith was raised with her identity as a an alien hidden from her, a tall task considering she is a species of lizard that catches on fire. A morning of missed “allergy” meds and a cracked “health” bracelet leads to her powers emerging and The Government getting involved. All is not lost, however, as aliens are normal apparently, they just stay hidden from the every day human for reasons. Tara can just go to a school, where she will learn how to control her powers, simple right? Wrong. This is high school, nothing is simple or easy about high school.

There are some overarching Big Plot things going on, but they happen mostly in the background of the story, though that’s not to say they aren’t important or don’t impact it. This is primarily a story about acceptance, finding friends, and learning to love yourself, and also everyone is an alien. It’s pretty great. It takes a step beyond your traditional high school story, grappling with difficult topics and loss in various forms and allowing the characters to be messy. It is absolutely a funny and heartfelt story, but mistakes are make and their repercussions born out. This messiness feels important in an age where I’ve been seeing increasingly black-and-white takes about media.

Image ID: A comic panel of Agent Stone, an older butch woman in a suit, leading Tara, who is now green skinned and lizard like in appearance, through a hallway. Agent Stone's first speech bubble reads: "And as silly as this part is, our treaties with other worlds mandate that in a closed environment like this, we're not allowed to have co-ed housing, so..." Tara interrupts with: "Wait, alien races also freak out about the gender binary?" To which Stone replies, "Binary? There's one very conservative race out there with seven different genders. But that is a headache for another time. Now, let me introduce you to--" The Snapchat caption reads: "I'm wheezing. This is so fantastic. I was not expecting anything like this to be touched on at all." End ID.}

Furthermore, there is something very queer about loving the monstrous and learning to love yourself when your perception of yourself is monstrous. As a queer person I found it very appealing as a coming of age story because of how the story dealt with perceptions of monstrosity and the self as monstrous. I don’t know if the intention was there to use aliens as a queer allegory, but the story as a whole certainly doesn’t shy away from queerness.

For example, our lead agent, Agent Stone, is very classically butch, and we also learn from Agent Stone that the reason the schools are split into boys and girls schools isn’t because of some gender binary hang up on the part of aliens, it’s because of the treaties they have with various governments, on Earth and elsewhere, which makes so much sense it’s hilarious. To cap it all off, one girl who Tara makes friends with, soap opera obsessed Kat, is very much rooting for Tara to fall in love with another friend Misako.

Image ID: Tara, Kat and Summer are standing in a hallway, all wearing simple grey and white school uniforms. Kat, an orange cat-like alien is saying: "Next weel on interstellar BFFs. Will Tara finally be reunited with her one true love?" Tara interjects with: "I told you, Kat. We're just friends." Kat replies, "This is my fan fiction, you stay out of it!" Summer, a dark skinned girl with long pink hair and an undercut, is laughing next to them with a speech bubble that says "Ha ha ha ha." The Snapchat caption reads, "There's nothing wrong with a bit of friend fiction XD." End ID.

“Girl on Fire” manages to do so many things in such a limited amount of space and it does all of those things well. I am eagerly awaiting volume two, which is slated to come out in October 2023.

Right now, you can order volume one here and pre-order volume two here.

If you enjoy what I do and would like to see more, please consider buying me a Kofi or supporting me on Patreon

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