Lynn: As a life-long science fiction reader I’m always begging for science fiction that is accessible, inviting, thrilling, something other than dystopia and shorter than door-stop length. Cecil Castellucci has galloped to the rescue. Tin Star (Roaring Brook 2014) is exactly what I have been looking for! Strap on your phase gun and step aboard the Space Station Yertina Feray.
14-year-old Tula Bane is smart and highly perceptive – qualities that will eventually save her life but when the colony ship Prairie Rose lands on the space station for repairs, it is those qualities that almost gets her killed. Tula notices that the ship’s cargo of grain, critical for the establishment of a new colony, has been off-loaded on the station. Brother Blue, the charismatic leader of the Children of Earth, has just announced that he had been summoned to an important meeting with the League of Worlds and the colonists will have to go on without him. Tula tells him about the grain and at first he reassures her, then he takes her to the cargo hangar where he beats and kicks her mercilessly, leaving her for dead. The Prairie Rose takes off without her, bearing Tula’s sister and mother, and then explodes mysteriously killing all the colonists aboard.
Tula is found and nursed back to health but her situation is grim. No human colony claims her, she has no money and she is the lone human – a much despised Minor Species – on the space station. She is entirely on her own. But Tula is a survivor and, aided by another bin-dweller named Heckleck, and powered by her urge for revenge on Brother Blue, Tula learns to barter. Jump ahead three years, and Tula’s fairly comfortable world is turned upside down when 3 young humans arrive, survivors of another mysterious explosion aboard a human ship with a connection to the hated Brother Blue.
As a teen one of the things I loved most were books packed with interesting aliens, set on places light-years away and wildly different. Since feeling alien is a very normal part of being a teenager, I have always wondered why there were so few YA books of this type. Tin Star is exactly that sort of book. It does a lot really well and setting and character are especially nicely crafted. Wisely, I think, Castellucci, resists the urge to do too much. Instead, the dusty gritty frontier setting of the space station is a manageable choice and filled with evocative details that make it come to life while feeling totally unearth-like. The aliens too are drawn with just enough intriguing characteristics to give them personality and physical form without getting mired in details. I really enjoyed the intriguing plot which is full of enough twists and turns to keep readers guessing and the pacing is fast. Tula is the real star of the book and it is her interactions, developing relationships and growing self-understanding that is the core of the story. There is a nice story arc here but there is also a sense of this being the stage-setter for some great adventures to come. Castellucci dangles some enticing bait here for readers who want to know much more about these characters, alien and human, and the many worlds they inhabit. Can’t wait!