I am not the target audience for Preeti Chhibber’s Peter and Ned’s Ultimate Travel Journal, but it doesn’t really matter. Intended for a middle grade audience, this book is a tie-in novel for the upcoming Marvel film Spider-Man: Far From Home. Much like the first film, Spider-Man: Homecoming, this book is fun.
(What follows is perhaps small broad-strokes spoilers for the new movie.)
Peter, Ned, and MJ are heading out class trip to Europe. In order to document the trip and provide a guide for others, Peter and Ned decide to pull together a travel journal comprised of their own observations about the trip, with occasional references to Peter’s other responsibilities.
With that as the launching point, Chhibber does an excellent job distinguishing Peter, Ned, and MJ’s voices. She also effectively highlights how, even as teenagers, these three have a particular perspective on the world in which they travel.
One of the fun pieces of the journal for me was the way Chhibber uses the trip to highlight history. While Ned and Peter definitely have a “cool things they saw” list, they are open to learning more along the way. Initially through MJ’s urging (every stop includes some off the beaten path sites, and a list of women in history), they start to see things from a new perspective. I especially enjoyed Peter and MJ’s debate about Michelangelo vs. Leonardo – because, really, tough decision!
The other thing I appreciated about the book was how the three of them were allowed to be age-appropriate. From watching movies on the plane, goofing around about teachers, and Ned’s really bad jokes, you get the broader sense that Peter is balancing being both Spider-Man and a regular teenager.
And, no matter how hard they try, Peter and Ned (well, mostly Ned) are terrible at masking Spider-Man’s true identity. It’s hilarious.
All that aside, I want to take a moment to talk about the design of the book. George McClements and Stéphane Kardos put together art, textual design, and layout that allows the reader to feel like they are a part of Peter and Ned’s (and MJ’s) journey. While Chhibber’s text provides the cadence and voice for each character, McClements and Kardos effectively added a visual punch to the journal. By using the general Spider-Man color scheme (red, white, black, grey), the journal feels like it is something Peter and Ned would put together on the fly. I especially enjoyed the permission slips, text exchanges, and checklists — the detritus of a field trip experience.
So even if you think this book isn’t for you, I recommend checking it out for a bit of light-hearted Peter Parker, Ned, and MJ fun. But be warned, there are some vague plot related Spider-Man: Far From Home spoilers in this book. So maybe if you want to go in cold, read this after seeing the movie.
Finally, I had a chance to ask Chhibber about her experience writing Peter and Ned’s Ultimate Travel Journal. Check out her responses below!
As an avid listener of Desi Geek Girls, I know you love all things Spider-Man. How did you feel when you realized you got to actually write in this world? How do you balance your love for the series with being an official part of the extended narrative building?
PC: My initial reaction was major impostor syndrome – like, who am I to write this book??? But, we all have to stamp down that voice that says we’re not good enough and luckily, I had Swapna Krishna (my Desi Geek Girls co-host) there to tell me that actually, I was born to write this book, ha! I can’t tell you how privileged I am to have people my life who will be there to shout down those awful words we say to ourselves.
But once I wrapped my head around the idea that I could do it? It was unreal. It’s still fairly rare that women of color have access to legacy characters from major brands, so I knew that I had an opportunity to bring a new perspective to a story about Peter and Ned and that was so exciting. In terms of balancing my love with building a narrative… what was kind of difficult was recognizing the different Peter Parkers in my head. I’m such a fan of the character that I tend to engage with him in whatever fashion I can, meaning video games, movies, comic books, TV shows, etc. And they’re all different. MCU Peter Parker is his own character, with his own history, and his own personality. That differentiation was something I had to work at.
I really appreciated the way you wove in different elements of history as part of this story, particularly MJs list of strong women and off the beaten track tourist sites. What was your favorite part of pulling those pieces together?
PC: MJ has a moment in Homecoming where she doesn’t want to celebrate something that was built by slaves – that was amazing to me, a line like that written into a Spider-Man movie! Here I have this character who is smart, and wants to talk about the inequity of the world. So my favorite part was just letting MJ share the history of women we don’t usually talk about! And I loved reading about these women and learning about them myself. It was a very tight schedule, so usually my process was furiously googling and hoping to find women of color that I could highlight, because they are so often left to footnotes (at best) or erased entirely.
Since this is a middle grade novel, what do you hope readers will take away from it (beyond just being fun!)?
PC: I hope they pick up names like Marsha P. Johnson, I hope they learn a little bit about all the countries mentioned, but to question who usually gets to write histories. And really, I hope they laugh a lot!
The publisher provided FANgirl with a copy of the book for review. Opinions are my own.
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