Fantasy Novel Review: Girl Squad Volta by Maya Lin Wang

I’m not anything approaching a connoisseur of magical girl fiction, but having immensely enjoyed both of M.L. Wang’s adult novels, I was a little bit curious about her series of snappy YA titles beginning with Girl Squad Volta. And when I heard a pretty compelling argument that magical girl stories are a type of superhero story—and indeed, the terms “superhero” and “superpowers” are used in Girl Squad Volta—one glance at the three empty squares on my second 2023 Bingo card was enough to buy a copy and give Maya Lin Wang’s young adult work a try. 

Girl Squad Volta stars Wren, a middle school girl with a passion for art and a fair bit of martial arts training—only nothing like her best friend Laura, who dominates all the tournaments and seems to be drifting toward the more popular, athletic crowd as they look toward the beginning of high school. So when she meets a magical stranger that looks like something out of one of her superhero comics, trying to keep a villain from exploiting human girls with unnatural abilities, it’s obvious that Laura must be the target, and that Wren must work with the mysterious stranger to protect her. 

If you’re at all familiar with the tropes, you can see where this is going. I’ve engaged with very little of the subgenre, and even I could see the twists coming a mile away. If you’re bothered by books that hew closely to the tropes, give this one a miss. But even when the shape of the plot is clear from the get-go, there’s still something to be said for an engrossing story, and Wang truly delivers on that score. Given how easily I immersed in her adult works, I wasn’t surprised to have a lot of fun with Girl Squad Volta, but she brought the story to life from the first martial arts tournament and didn’t let up from there, delivering a sympathetic portrait of an anxious teenager worried about losing her best friend to mundane distractions, and then escalating naturally to more magical obstacles. 

To be fair, I really love stories about discovering hidden magic, so even if I was pretty far from the target audience, there was a lot here that was very much in my wheelhouse. I could see the twist coming from the first page, but that didn’t lessen my anticipation one whit for the inevitable revelation. Combine that with a compelling lead character and a snappy plot that brought the whole book in at under 200 pages, and Girl Squad Volta made for a quick and thoroughly entertaining read. 

Can I nitpick it? Sure. As someone who lives with a couple elementary school kids, some of the flashback scenes didn’t come off quite true to the intended character ages. And there may be a little bit more explaining of the magic system that I personally prefer. To be honest, it’s probably not a series that I’ll continue, simply because I love the freshness of hidden worlds but care much less about fighting the bad guys once the world becomes known. That puts me in a position to like the first book a lot more than I’m likely to like future installments. But if you’re here for that type of story, it’s hard to argue it’s not an entertaining one. 

In short, Girl Squad Volta was exactly the book I expected it to be—a magical girl YA fantasy with a low barrier of entry, a likable main character, and all the magic of new discovery. 

Recommended if you like: magical girl YA stories, discovering hidden worlds. 

Can I use it for Bingo? It’s hard mode for Self-Published, and it also is First in a Series, includes Dreams, and is written by an Author of Color. 

Overall rating: 15 of Tar Vol’s 20. Four stars on Goodreads. 

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