Tin Star is the story of Tula Bane, a teenager who joined a space colonizing cult from Earth, but she finds herself abandoned on a way station near the edge of the known universe on the way to her new home. The circumstances of this abandonment are a large part of the story, so I won’t ruin it for you with too many additional details. How will Tula Bane survive among aliens who think the worst of humans because of our isolationist policies towards other species? Will she ever be able to go home to Earth or the colony’s planet? How will she manage to put bread on the table? Read Tin Star to find out.
I love a good space opera, though I find myself drawn more to Star Wars than Star Trek, and I thought that I would enjoy Tin Star more than I did. The promise of books set in space, in my opinion, is the opportunity for unique interstellar exploration and worlds created entirely from the author’s imagination. Because of Tula’s unique plight (being stuck in what is essentially a space gas station), the author left herself very little wiggle room to write a creative story. Mainly, Tin Star deals with character development and social struggles, not so much adventuring in new places.
The villain of the tale, who Tula actually spends very little time with, was charismatic and creepy. Take this interaction between them: “He had his hand on my shoulder in a way that he had a million times before. Only before it was comforting, encouraging, affectionate. Now it was menacing. He was looking at me and his face was smiling. To anyone looking from afar, he seemed to be pleased with me, but it was just a mask. His attitude shifted from concerned leader to unknowable monster.” pg 4
Tula manages to befriend a shady, insect-like alien named Heckleck, who ended up being my favorite character in the book. Here, he’s laying out the hurdles that Tula will face in trying to leave the station: “I know about you,” Heckleck said. “Everyone does. And you will never get off this station. You are nobody. And worse, you’re a Human. Even if you did not get on a ship that would take one of your kind, you’d have nowhere to go but to roam like the others of your kind do. And it would cost you more currency chits than you’d likely make in a hundred years.” pg 35. Keeping it real: with Heckleck.
I thought that Castellucci could have done more with the cultural differences between Tula and the others on the station. One of the most interesting exchanges in the book was between Tula and Tournour, the head of the outpost. She’s trying to figure out how old he is and, because they’re from different planets/species, it’s a surreal conversation. I would have enjoyed more misunderstandings like that but Castellucci sort of wrote that out of the story by introducing nanites into Tula’s bloodstream to translate alien languages for her.
Something that Castellucci did well was writing profound silences between characters into her story. Tula finds herself standing around a lot with Heckleck and Tournour and having nothing to say. I liked how Castellucci wrote the thoughts spinning through Tula’s mind at these moments. It reminded me of myself when I can’t think of anything to say: “It was a silent agreement between us that if we spoke too much then we would have to talk about the practical things. About revenge. About the civil war on Earth. About Brother Blue. If we ever spoke of the things that truly pressed up against us, our very real worries, our seemingly impossibly plans for escape, our divergent hopes for the future, our bubble would blow apart.” pg 184
This book in three lines: “In the end, good must win over evil. The trouble is trying to figure out which is which. Sometimes they look so much alike,” I said.” pg 204
Read this book if you enjoy light, young adult drama in space, but if you’re looking for a space adventure, you’ll need to find another title. Some read-alikes are: The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness (teen trying to survive on an alien planet) or Gated by Amy Christine Parker (teen trying to leave a cult). A television program that readers of this book may enjoy is The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt for related themes.
Thank you to Roaring Brook Press for sending an advance reader copy of this book to my library for review purposes. And, thank you for reading!