A Problematic Paradox, by Eliot Sappingfield

A Problematic Paradox, by Eliot Sappingfield  (Putnam, middle grade, Jan. 2018), is a great pick for kids who enjoy wild and whacky sci fi school stories, and for those who love stories of smart, misfit girls finally finding their people.

Nikola Kross is that sort of girl.  Her intellect and knowledge has antagonized just about everyone in her boring, normal school in North Dakota.  Her father, a mad-scientist inventor type, has rigged up a comfortable enough home of the two of them in an abandoned warehouse store, but although he's taught Nikola a lot, and provided her with a state of the art security system and incredible escape plan just in case things go wrong, he hasn't given her much affection.

Fortunately, when a nasty, non-human monster going by the name of Tabbabitha shows up after school to kidnap Nikola, after already taking her father, the security system and escape plan kick in.  Nikola finds her self a student at the most unusual school on earth, a place for genius kids who are both human (the minority) and not so human kids with extraordinary abilities.  She has a lot of catch up (quantum mechanics and the manipulation of reality not being on the curriculum of her old school), and she has even more figuring out to do.

Questions like "who the heck are these people?" and "can I finally make friends?" keep Nikola busy.  And happily, she does make friends; her new room-mate, though she has little in common with Nikola, turns out to be just who she needs, and vice versa (the way the two of them sort out how they are going to co-habitate is lovely reading!).  And of course the larger, more explosive sort of questions keep her and her companions busy as well, as they try to foil Tabbabitha's evil plottings and schemings for world domination.

It's a fun read, slowed at tad by the amount of explanations readers (and Nikola) need to make sense of things, but not so much so as to be bothersome.  The friendship thread of the story was my favorite part; I found the school slightly less appealing, probably because I am older than the target audience and rather more jaded (does every school have to come with a beautiful mean girl?), but also because the headmistress got on my nerves lots (she's intended to be unhelpful, and succeeds....).  Also perhaps because I'm not personally interested in devices that need batteries and equations.  (Pushing further into introspection-maybe I didn't like the school because I would fail if I went there....).  On a more positive note, I thought the larger conflict part was interesting (I was afraid after meeting the over-the-top Tabbabitha and her henchmonsters that it would be farcical, but it wasn't).

So short answer--I enjoyed reading it, parts very much indeed, but it's not a personal most loved favorite though it is one I'd strongly recommend to readers who do like devices and devisings, and smart girls who are good at both!

Kirkus gave it a star, referencing "an endless parade of jokes (both sly and knee-slapping)." I am now wondering if I need to read the book again, because when I read it yesterday I was amused by many things but cannot recall a single "joke" (unless you count Tabbabitha's name).  Perhaps they are jokes only people who like batteries and equations will notice.  If you have read it and slapped your knee, let me know so that I can appreciate with more precision my failure as a reader!

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