Tin Star
Cecil Castellucci
Winner of Starburst Award YA

Tin isn’t much of metal. Tin doesn’t have the cache of gold or silver. It isn’t fun say like aluminium or molybdenum. Even steel and iron have a better reputations as being working class and tough.

Tin is just… I dunno, kind of common and uninteresting.

Not unlike this book.

The story starts out really strong. Our heroine, fifteen year old Tula, has been left for dead in the docking bay of a space station. We quickly find out that she’s been betrayed by a cult leader-like figure known as Brother Blue. Tula is part of a colony ship, the Prairie Rose, that was forced to dock at the station for repairs. Tula, who can speak some Universal, is sent out to do a few errands for Brother Blue, and along the way, she discovers that he’s planned to divest the colony of its much-needed supplies. When she confronts him about it, he beats her nearly to death and leaves her to die.

Brother Blue makes his escape; Tula is abandoned on the station.

And, then… (drum roll, please!)… nothing much happens.

To be fair, Tula does plot Brother Blue’s demise, stares wistfully down at the planet below the station, makes a few friends, and learns how to become a master at barter and trade. Some humans show up halfway through the book and there’s some intrigue with them, but… yeah. I never felt any of it.

Part of the problem is that I think Castellucci skims over the stuff I would have found super interesting and which might have served to give Tula some personality. Castellucci has a tendency to tell us things things we should have experienced with Tula. For instance, there’s a friendship that is critical to the first half of the book. We see how Tula meets this person, but we don’t really get much development of it beyond hand waving, ala ‘I grew used to his presence’ or something similar. Tula becomes really good at reading aliens and bartering with them, but we never see her make her first mistakes, never see her slowly learning cultural differences.

And then when the humans arrive, Tula struggles with how alien she’s become, but details are still missing. I’ll never forget a story that a former student of mine told me. He used to have some kind of job that required him to be alone in the Arctic Circle for months at a time, and he said that once, after a particularly long stretch without seeing another human being, when the supplies came he was struck by how weird humans look on two feet. He said, “We look like we’re constantly falling forward, stumbling into the next step.”

Details like that were what was missing from Tin Star. Plus, not knowing that this book was the first in a series, the ending felt like a rip-off, too.

I feel like instead of getting the gold star treatment, all I got was tin.

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