What makes Doreen Green (a.k.a. Squirrel Girl) so unbeatable? And how did she become the hero fans know and love?
Those are just some of the questions Shannon and Dean Hale tackle in The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Meets World, a middle grade novel that tells the story of its 14-year-old protagonist as she moves to New Jersey, joins a new school, and attempts to make friends — while also saving her new home from the malicious forces threatening it.
“Was Doreen Green born confident like she is now [in the comics], and just runs out in the world that way?” says author Shannon Hale of writing Squirrel Girl’s superheroic origin story. “Ultimately it just makes a more interesting story if she has to have some experiences and to earn that. [But] we knew we wanted her central core to be optimism. She’s full of hope and she does believe that she is capable.”
It wasn’t just Squirrel Girl’s upbeat attitude that endeared to the Hales — though it was a big part of it — both authors were also drawn to her tragedy-free backstory.
“We wanted her to have these super-normal, Midwestern, cutesy parents that just think she’s the bees knees and not to have any of that trauma,” says Shannon. “That was something that’s not been part of her backstory and something that we really didn’t want to create. She just likes to help people. She doesn’t need a reason to fix the world except, ‘There she is and she’s capable.’ So why not?”
Another important aspect of any origin story is also the first villain that the hero fights. In the case of the book, Squirrel Girl goes up against the Micro Manager, an original Hale creation, who vandalizes Doreen’s new hometown, trapping squirrels and causing dogs to act up. At first, both authors were tempted to find an existing Marvel villain for their young hero to face — especially as she doesn’t yet have the training or skills of her older comic-based self.
“The initial approach was to find someone really obscure. We also had some villains that might be natural enemies of squirrels, like Princess Python,” explains co-author Dean Hale. “It was to mirror the idea of how Squirrel Girl is overlooked because most villains look at her like she is sweet and insignificant, and that’s to their detriment.”
Shannon agrees, likening the way villains interact with Squirrel Girl to the way young girls are often treated. “A lot of girls are dismissed out of hand, but people actually underestimate them. They have more power and ability than people give them credit for.”
This also plays out in the extent of Doreen’s powers, which incorporate the proportional strength, speed, and agility of as squirrel, along with a bush tail.
“I was shocked at how much she was capable of. It sounds like a joke, but it turns out if you have an adult human with those powers, that’s a really powerful person. She can bite through metal,” says Shannon. Adds Dean, “ Her speed and strength are relative to the speed of Quicksilver and the strength of Captain America.”
But as much as the Hales are crafting Squirrel Girl’s history, they also wanted to stay true to the current ongoing Marvel comic series created by Ryan North and Erica Henderson. This allowed both writers to not only tell chapters of the story from Doreen’s squirrel friend Tippy Toe’s perspective, but it also allowed them to use footnotes, making it seem like Squirrel Girl is reading along and reacting to events within the book.
“She can be silly and funny, but still powerful. That’s what’s so cool about it,” explains Dean.
“We wanted this to be a comedy first and foremost,” adds Shannon. “There’s plenty of wonderful angsty superhero stories, but Squirrel Girl is Squirrel Girl because it’s funny.”
Shannon and Dean Hale’s The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Meets World is currently available for purchase.