Flight of the Outcast (The Academy: Year 1), by Brad Stickland is that rather rare thing--pure honest a goodness science fiction for upper middle grade/lower YA readers.
Asteria Locke's story begins on Theron, a remote planet where her father was given a land grant after being grievously wounded in a space battle against the Tetras--vicious aliens who do their utmost to destroy any human ship they come upon. But when Asteria is 13, the farm is attacked by raiders, and her father and cousin (all the family she has left) are killed. Her cousin had been granted admittance to the prestigious Royal Spacefleet Academy; she decides to take his place, and one day revenge herself on the rebels.
For a commoner girl fresh off the farm, the Academy, dominated by scions of the aristocracy, is an alien place. One of the young aristocrats in particular has taken a particular scunner to Asteria, and makes her life miserable. But as the weeks pass at the Academy, Asteria begins to gather pieces of the story of the last battle her father had fought....a story that those in power are determined to keep buried. And in the meantime, the Tetras are moving closer....
The science fiction setting adds great interest to what is, at its heart, a fairly standard boarding school story. Happily, I like boarding school stories, with the petty intrigues, the stock characters (brave girl determined to make good, humorous side-kick, arrogant jerk, tests of skill in which the main character proves to be preternaturally gifted), and so I enjoyed this one plenty. I'm not the first to think "Harry Potter in a sci fi world" (all the reviews I link to mention H.P.) and that's not a bad thing at all.
But I think I'm going to enjoy the next book more, with the promise it holds of more nuance in the characterization, now the stage has been set, more about the intrigues and the machinations of those in power, and more about the sinister Tetras....
Other reviews: Obsessed, Maltby Reads, and Book Aunt.
(read for the Cybils)