While this novel by Heinlein has similarities to his “Juveniles” series of science fiction novels for younger readers published by Scribners, it’s not part of that series. For one thing, some of the subject matter is more adult than Scribners would have been comfortable with, and the ending Heinlein submitted was tragic. The original publisher, Putnams, refused to accept that ending, and insisted Heinlein write a happier one, which he bitterly protested. This 1993 printing included both endings for the first time, and there was a contest for readers to see which ending was preferred. The original ending was chosen, and has been the only one in the book since the late 1990s.
Podkayne Fries narrates the book, she’s a teenager living on Mars with her capable parents and her annoyingly brilliant brother Clark. The story is told mainly through her recorded audio diary. Poddy thinks she has her family and the world around her figured out, and she longs to travel to the other planets in our solar system, especially Earth, to see and learn more. Her uncle Tom is an important man in Mars government, and he agrees to take Pod and Clark with him on a trip to Venus and Earth, where he will attend an important conference. Once on board a luxury liner, Podkayne begins to realize that this is more than a pleasure trip for her uncle when her brother Clark unwittingly carries aboard a bomb planted by those who want Uncle Tom dead. Fortunately Clark is too smart for them, and disarms the bomb. Other adventures aboard ship include time in emergency shelters during a solar storm, and dealing with prejudice from Earth passengers. The family group first lands on Venus, where Uncle Tom is beginning negotiations with that planet’s government while Pod and Clark are given time to sightsee. Clark quickly becomes a casino gambler while Pod dates the son of a Venus politician. Then things turn dark again when all three of them are kidnapped by those who want to turn the three-planet negotiations their way rather than what Uncle Tom wants. The kidnappers have no qualms about killing any of them if Uncle Tom does not do as they say.
I can’t say I like this book as much as many others by Heinlein, but it’s well written and the characters are believable and appealing for the most part. The tragic ending really does make it a better book than the happier one I read originally.