Zoe's Tale, by John Scalzi (2008, Tor, YA, 330pp)
Zoe is not your typical teenaged girl/interplanetary colonist. She's had a pretty eventful life even before her foster parents accepted an invitation to lead a group of colonists to the planet Roanoke--for one thing, she is practically a goddess to the alien race to whom her father gave the gift of consciousness. Two of that alien race shadow her every more, but she's used to them--they're part of her family, and they are going to Roanoke too.
When their colonizing ship emerges from its space jump, they find that they are at the wrong planet. Worse still, an enemy league of alien races is out to get them, and this means starting their new lives devoid of every technological gadget that might betray them to the watchers out there in space. But life goes on, rather pleasantly in parts--like kissing her new boyfriend, Enzo, and engaging in snarky one-ups-manship repartee with her best friend.
Until the war in space comes for them, and all that Zoe holds dear is threatened...can a teenage kind-of-goddess, with just a few self-defense skills and more than a bit of smart alecky attitude, save her new planet, without loosing too much in the process?
Zoe's Tale is a young adult companion to the Old Man's War series, but it is not at all necessary to have read those books before reading this one. The information dumps are tastefully handled, and are rather interesting backstory in their own right. And I found Zoe's particular story engrossing, full of twists both plotwise and with regard to character. The relationships between Zoe and her friends, complete with relationship angst, friendly banter, and tremendous loyalty, were as interesting to me as the space adventure/planet colonizing plot.
Young adult science fiction is a pretty rare breed, so there's not a lot of competition for this book within that subgenre. But even standing it against adult sci fi on the one hand, and teenage romantic fantasy on the other, it's a strong book. I might even lend it to my mother...and I say that only of books that have both intellectual and emotional appeal, and pretty tight writing.
Zoe's Tale has been nominated for this year's Andre Norton Award. But it doesn't please everyone--Scalzi bravely offers a look at some of the one star reviews he's gotten here...I think those people are misguided at best.
(disclaimer: I received this book from the publishers back in fall 2008 for Cybils consideration...and it has been haunting me ever since. I just couldn't read all 166 of the books nominated, so I saved this one for a rainy day-which turned out to be yesterday).