While Googling Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century, I came across this article on Medium.com that shared some shocking information. It turns out that the film is really an adaptation of “a lesser-known book” published in 1996. This was news to me. I had no idea that the movie was based off a book. The original book, also titled Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century, is a science fiction children’s book written by Marilyn Sadler and illustrated by Roger Bollen. Zenon was originally a hardcover picture book, and then the Disney Channel produced a live-action film version in January 1999. The Disney movie was such a success that they also made Zenon: The Zequel and Zenon: Z3. Sadler and Bollen followed up with four more Zenon books, including Bobo Crazy: Zenon, Girl of the 21st Century; Zenon Kar, Spaceball Star; The Trouble with Fun; and Stuck on Earth: Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century.
Well, obviously after learning this news, I had to find out if the books were any good! I started my search with my local library, but it didn’t carry any of Sadler’s books. One of the books was at a library in another town, but I felt it was a little excessive to drive an hour and a half round trip for a children’s book! Luckily, I found three of the five books listed on OverDrive, and they were available so I could check them out and read them right away. The books have ten short chapters and are under 100 pages. There are small black line illustrations on every page or two (I read the books on my kindle, so I’m not sure exactly how the printed book is laid out). These pictures help show what life is like on the space station, and even though the pictures are kind of cartoony, they’re great at showing Zenon’s emotions.
OverDrive didn’t have the first book in the series, so I started with Zenon Kar, Spaceball Star. In this book, Zenon has always enjoyed spaceball – a sport played on the space station that is sort of like soccer or volleyball, but requires players to fly around the arena with jetpacks – even though her friends aren’t interested in it. When the team is looking for new recruits, Zenon knows this is her chance to play. But she’s not as big as the other players. Will she be able to keep up with the team?
The book was adorable. Zenon feels a bit younger than her film counterpart, but that was okay. She’s more of a middle schooler than a teenager. What made the movies so much fun was the quirky vocabulary the kids used. I was pleased to see that Zenon Kar talks like this in the books, too.
“What’s so stellar about that? I thought. But what I saw next was thermo.”
There is even a glossary in the back of the book to help readers understand the slang terminology. I was worried that my five year old would lose interest while listening to this book because of all the new words, but they didn’t seem to bother her at all. The words may be different from what she’s used to, but they’re used in such a way that they make sense in context. And, Zenon repeats them a lot, giving you time to understand what she’s trying to say. There were lots of little moments in the book that reminded me of things that happened in the movie. For instance, Zenon and her friend Nebula are crazy about the band Microbe – which reminded me of the girls screaming for the band Proto Zoa in the movie.
“Zee!” she shouted as she came up on my maxi-screen. “I got tickets for the Microbe concert tomorrow night!”
“Ceedus-Lupeedus!” I cried. “I thought they were sold out!”
I think I liked the next Zenon book even better. Published in 2011, The Trouble with Fun starts with the arrival of a scientist and his daughter. The scientist is going to help Zenon’s dad with his frisson work, and Zenon is supposed to show his daughter, Teena, around the space station. Teena seems really cool at first. She has an awesome video camera necklace, grown-ups are impressed by her, and she takes exciting risks. Teena can smooth-talk her way out of situations, and she breaks the rules, like getting Zenon and her friends to accompany her on a dangerous spacewalk. But Zenon soon finds out that Teena is trouble when Zenon gets blamed for an accident that wasn’t her fault.
This book reminded me of Zenon: The Zequel when Zenon has to look after General Hammond’s daughter, Margie, who does her best to make Zenon’s life miserable. Overall, the Zenon books were enjoyable for me as a movie fan and for my daughter. I might even say they were a stellar middle grade read.