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Don’t Bug Me

Ruby Finley vs. the Interstellar Invasion

By K. Tempest Bradford 

19 May, 2023

Doing the WFC's Homework

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K. Tempest Bradford’s 2022 Ruby Finley vs. the Interstellar Invasion is a stand-alone Andre-Norton-Award-winning science fiction novel.

Observant and inquisitive schoolgirl Ruby Finley spots an unusual bug and in so doing becomes involved in interstellar hijinks.

Having placed the bug in a glass jar, young Ruby barely has time to establish that the small creature is no known insect before the animal somehow melts a hole through the glass and escapes. Ruby posts a photo online, hoping an entomologist will ID the peculiar bug. No ID is forthcoming.

A small army of government agents descends on the neighborhood. Precisely which government agency they represent varies; they tell different stories to different people. What is clear is that they are very interested in the supposed insect Ruby found. It’s also clear, at least to Ruby, that their claims about the bug are manifestly false.

The consequences for Ruby are immediate and unfortunate. Ruby used her illicit @LilEntomologist Twitter account to look for information. It’s illicit because her parents don’t think an eleven-year-old girl should have a Twitter account. Her ploy is exposed and Ruby is punished. No online access for her, for some time. It’s not unreasonable but still …

She finds distractions in the real world to occupy herself. Someone is stealing metal. The neighborhood’s weird hermit lady is acting more oddly than normal. Ruby’s science teacher is pushing Ruby to drop her ambitious science project in favor of a less challenging project that the white teacher feels is more appropriate for a black student.

Oh, yes. There’s also the matter of the on-going alien invasion, which only Ruby and her schoolmates are in a position to combat.


This is an upbeat adventure but that isn’t to say everything is hunky-dory. The words racist” and racism” do not appear in the novel. However, there is at least one racist doing racist things. The discussion that ensues when Ruby’s teacher tries to have Ruby punished for refusing to abandon bee research suggests that the teacher might just be admonished by school authorities. If that happens, it is off-stage. If it has any effect, that too is off-stage.

There is also the matter of the local hermit woman, who has and is probably dying of cancer, not to mention the intensely disturbing implications of a trans-species communications device that Ruby acquires towards the end of the novel1.

Perhaps any young person for whom you purchase this will overlook those possibly unsettling elements, which are not emphasized. Perhaps they will be as bright as Ruby, in which case parents should be prepared to discuss subjects like death, racism, and how the animals around us might feel about human behavior.

Caveats aside, the novel’s tone is cheerful. Ruby and her pals survive, as do the dogs survive. Property damage, while extreme, is limited to a building with no one inside. None of that is a given in an award-winning novel aimed at kids2.

The narrative is more than an absence of negatives. There are a lot of positives here as well: happy families3, friends who actually like each other, even the odd helpful MIB. Result: an engaging adventure that well deserved its award.

Ruby Finley vs. the Interstellar Invasion is available here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada), here (Amazon UK), here (Apple Books), here (Barnes & Noble), and here (Chapters-Indigo).

1: It’s odd that before writing this, I has just listened to a Mindwebs episode in which a similar communication device ended up in the hands of a person emotionally ill-suited to handle the matter.

2: I have to admit I’ve never checked to see if being an Andre Norton Award winner signals that the book is going to end in death and loss (as so many Newbery winners do). It is hard to believe any award could meet the Newbery standard of literary pain, let alone exceed it. If this novel had won a Newbery, I’d expect Ruby to be struck by lightning and drowned while fending off her beloved but rabid dog.

3: The teacher has firm views about the cognitive limits of her African-American students. She also seems to assume that they all come from broken or breaking homes.