Tin Star by Cecil Castellucci.
Published: February 25, 2014.
Published by: Roaring Brook Press.
Source: Requested an ARC from the Canadian distributor in exchange for a fair and honest review. Thank you, Raincoast!
On their way to start a new life, Tula and her family travel on the Prairie Rose, a colony ship headed to a planet in the outer reaches of the galaxy. All is going well until the ship makes a stop at a remote space station, the Yertina Feray, and the colonist's leader, Brother Blue, beats Tula within an inch of her life. An alien, Heckleck, saves her and teaches her the ways of life on the space station.
When three humans crash land onto the station, Tula's desire for escape becomes irresistible, and her desire for companionship becomes unavoidable. But just as Tula begins to concoct a plan to get off the space station and kill Brother Blue, everything goes awry, and suddenly romance is the farthest thing from her mind.
Tin Star is a very interesting take on a topic that has recently begun experiencing a boom: YA lit set in space. It has some truly unique side characters and an intelligent, resilient main character, all of whom I found compelling to read about. However, I think it suffered a bit from a lack of action and excitement due to the way the story was set up.
One element that seems to make Tin Star unique from other space YA is the aliens. In this story, humans are not even the dominant species in the universe, let alone the only intelligent life. There are many established species of aliens that are far more populous and hold far more control than humans do and this becomes very clear through Tula's experience as the only human on the station. I really enjoyed that this perspective was explored. It's not often that there's a story in which humans are not on top. The prejudice and distrust that Tula has to fight simply because she's human seem rather indicative of the way we humans treat one another based on other kinds of differences. The way Castellucci presented that situation was, I think, an intelligent social commentary that also worked very well for her story and her characters.
I thought the inclusion of the romance was an interesting choice. I think some people will find it distracts from the novel, but I actually appreciated its role. It certainly doesn't overwhelm in any way; it remains rather understated plot-wise. Where it really makes its impact is in Tula herself. She is the sole human on this isolated station for years. Her only real friend is the alien Heckleck and while he is a good companion for her, he is simply not human, and does not act like a human. No wonder Tula finds comfort in human companionship and even craves it. I felt like her emotions regarding the romance were very fitting with her circumstances and I appreciated that the romance was an element worked into the story but also that it didn't take over the whole story.
My only real issue with this novel is that, while Tula's day-to-day was interesting, I felt like there wasn't much progress made in the plot. There was an end-goal that Tula wanted to accomplish but it always seemed like there was very little going on to actually work towards it. The goal itself was specific, but any indication of how Tula hoped to accomplish it was very vague. I felt her conviction to accomplish it in her emotions, but her actions didn't seem to perform. At times the pace plodded and I wondered if anything was actually going to get resolved. As I said, for the most part I enjoyed the daily life on the station. I suppose I just hoped for more direction in where the novel was going.
All in all, I did enjoy the story crafted in Tin Star and think it's a good mix of aliens, politics and social commentary in a daily life type plot and a romance subplot. I really just wished it worked more towards the goal that was set out by the main character. Certainly still an interesting and enjoyable read, though.