Dragonfly Girl by Marti Leimbach

  Dragonfly Girl by Marti Leimbach, Katherine Tegen Books (an imprint of HarperCollins), 9780062995865, 2021 

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 3

Format: Hardcover

Genre: Adventure

What did you like about the book?  Part I: Awkward science genius Kira wins the impressive Science For Our Futures award and travels to Stockholm to accept the prize for her work on dragonflies. Unfortunately, she’s only a senior in high school and lives in fear that the brilliant Will Drummond will expose her and she’ll have to forfeit the hefty cash prize that she desperately needs. Part II: Kira returns to California and her mother (cancer warrior) and begins splitting her time between high school and the mysterious Mellin Institute, where she’s employed as a lab tech. But really, she’s being groomed by the mysterious Dr. Munn. She befriends Dmitry, a fellow young genius who dreams of resurrecting the dead. But his formula doesn’t quite work, until Kira rejiggers it and brings a rat back to life. Part III: (Spoiler alert) Evil Russian goons kidnap Kira (and Will) and force her to bring rats back to life for them. Kira escapes only to be reunited with Dr. Munn, who sets up a sequel by intimating that she should assume the role of double agent. I liked the first part best, as Kira’s insecurities over her poverty and lack of education battle with her brilliance. In hindsight, I should have guessed that she would become a hunter (dragonfly metaphor).  Leimbach writes smoothly and conjures wonderfully immersive segments that take place in fascinating places: snowy Sweden, in the high-tech but sinister lab, on a grueling train ride through Russia and in the stark, filthy prison in which Kira lands at the end of the book. For most of the story, I found myself totally absorbed and couldn’t put it down. All the main characters are described as White, except for Kira’s crush Rik Okada, who I think is supposed to be Japanese-American.

Anything you didn’t like about it? Part I was engrossing enough that I didn’t dwell much on the implausibility of a high school student’s paper on the mathematical theory behind dragonfly hunting patterns winning a major science prize. Part II confused me. There seemed to be no relationship between Kira’s math prowess on display in Stockholm and her ability to improve the reanimation formula. By the time I got to Part III, I was struggling with the book’s sudden pivot to Mission Impossible-style espionage. I found it hard to cozy up to Kira, who had very thin relationships with those around her. Also, the three potential love interests, all significantly older than Kira and in positions of relative power in the Institute, left me slightly queasy.  

To whom would you recommend this book?  It’s hard to predict where the next installment will go, but hopefully back toward the science elements of the book. I would recommend this to readers in grades 9 and up who are intrigued by the combination of lab time, an evil Russia mastermind, Kira on the run, and an inevitable makeover (used clothes and a drastic haircut).

Who should buy this book? High school and public libraries.

Where would you shelve it? YA fiction

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: April 11, 2021

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