Fear the Teenage Ninja
Author: Francine Pascal
World, meet Gaia. Not that Gaia wants to meet you, since she’s a misanthropic teenage loner with a nasty chip on her shoulder. But you need to meet her. She is beautiful, but doesn’t know it. She has a tragic past that includes death and abandonment. She lives with people who don’t really care about her. She hates her school and her classmates. She’s brilliant. She has training in all sorts of martial arts and excels at each because she has incredible reflexes, speed and strength, making her more or less super-human. And she has no fear. None at all – she lacks the gene. Which is why the debut book in her series is titled…Fearless.
She also sounds perfectly dreadful, doesn’t she? Just another cliched beautiful, super-hero, outcast teenage heroine who is misunderstood by the popular crowd and toughs it out because she’s just so damn awesome. And to be honest, she is dreadful (though in defense of the author, this book was written in 1999, perhaps before this character became a mainstay of YA fiction). There’s no particular reason to like Gaia, and I don’t. But let’s back up just a little.
We enter Gaia’s story right after she moves to New York City with her latest set of guardians. Her father abandoned her when she was 12 and she’s lived with a revolving set of caregivers ever since. This particular set includes George, who worked at the CIA with Gaia’s dad, and his trophy wife Ella. Gaia doesn’t like them, particularly the vapid Ella. But since Gaia doesn’t like anyone that’s not surprising. She begins school with her typical crappy attitude, in which she will not reveal her brilliance in order to fade into the background. She doesn’t, of course, making an enemy of the most popular girl in school almost instantly.
She likes to spend her time in the park, where the old men play chess. She’s a chess master, of course, and she likes this outcast group of people. She does not approve of the preppy looking college kid who seems to feel the need to stroll through the area with regularity. Oh, but that would be Sam, with whom she will be falling in love in short order. He also happens to be the boyfriend of Heather, Gaia’s brand new nemesis. She has but one friend, Ed, who has been in a wheelchair since a paralyzing accident some years prior. Gaia treats Ed like crap.
Driving the story is the romance, Gaia’s awesomeness, and her shadowy past. The only one of those things that is even remotely interesting is the shadowy past. Her father realized she was different and trained her to be a super-ninja and because she lacks fear she gets a high from physical confrontation. So much so that she seeks it out. She likes beating up on the skin heads in the park. But someone is both hunting her and strangely protecting her (mostly from her own stupid self). There’s a spark of intrigue there.
My problems with Fearless range from the annoying to the infuriating. Annoying is the boatload of clichés on every page – our awesome heroine, her love at first sight foolishness with Sam, Ed’s unrequited love for Gaia, the evil popular girl. Bleh. But more than that, the premise is faulty because of the execution. Author Pascal goes to great trouble to tell us about how fearless Gaia is but has her also being insecure, uncomfortable and awkward. The problem here is that all of those things are nothing but manifestations of fear. If she truly had no fear, she would never feel uncomfortable in social situations or awkward when she wanted to talk to a boy. So what she really has is a lack of fear of being physically harmed, which is just not that amazing, especially with her being a ninja.
But it isn’t all bad in Fearless. Pascal takes some chances with the narrative, occasionally taking a break from the third person omniscient narrator to get closer to one of the characters in the first person. We get inside Gaia’s head several times, making her slightly harder to hate. The story also moves quickly and there’s enough bits of murky, unexplained past to keep you turning pages to find out more about Gaia’s father, Ed’s accident and exactly who is pulling the puppet strings around this girl.
Don’t get me wrong – Fearless isn’t a good book, but it is a quite readable book. A guilty pleasure, perhaps, to be consumed whole in between more substantial fare (and everything is more substantial). It’s the first in a series, so you should have the next two books on hand – it’s sort of one big book chopped into three parts. 2 stars out of 5 for Fearless and recommended only for those with a high tolerance for YA foolishness and the need for a quick palate cleanser.
— S. Millinocket
Fearless Series Reviews
Do yourself a favor – buy the edition with the first three books all in one volume (the link below will take you to it on Amazon). You’ll hate yourself in the morning, but you’ll want to know what happens after book one.