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Thursday, June 12, 2014

Tin Star by Cecil Castellucci | review

Tin Star by Cecil Castellucci
Get It | Add It
Science Fiction, 240 pages
Published February 25th 2014 by Roaring Brook Press
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.

I've been meaning to share this review with you for ages; I've talked about the book a ton in various other posts and vlogs, and have had the review nearly completed for months — it just kept slipping my mind, and for that, I'm sorry, because I think this book could use the push, and I am more than happy to push it on you. While I don't think everyone will like this, with its cold-fish narrator, Tula, and her detached, inhuman way of relating her story, I think that those who connect to it will find a very unique, compelling story with surprising depth and power and memorable characters.

I've said before that I'm a sucker for those cold-fish characters. [My chronic Resting Bitch Face may give some insight into why this is. Whatever.] I don't think it's just because they're understated that these books appeal to me, but that by their very nature, these characters speak to something in me — despite being a fairly gregarious and outspoken person in most situations, personally, I can be very reticent; I gravitate towards prickly people and hopeless situations; I like a challenge.  But beyond the reasons I relate, or at least find myself drawn to, these characters, I find them necessary and psychologically true. I'm going to try really hard not to go off on some absurd philosophical tangent (once again), but the fact is, some people deal by shutting down, or shutting people out. To have those personality types represented is not only right in the sense of creating characters that those types of readers can relate to, but also makes some scenarios more believable for me, varies things up, and adds a layer to the story that I may not otherwise get (enhanced by the challenge these characters present, which is simply just pleasing to my puzzle-loving brain).

Nowhere is this better used than in Tin Star, where the main character, Tula, is literally the only human in her corner of deep space for years, with no hope of seeing another human for the rest of her life. It makes perfect sense that Tula would shut down as not only a coping mechanism, but as a means of survival. Surrounded by alien lifeforms, in a potentially hostile environment that doesn't look kindly on what it means to be human, it's fitting that she'd begin to lose some of the signifiers of 'humanity.' Ironically, it's the very human trait of mimicry, of conscious and unconscious mirroring as means of forming & cementing a place in a community (something humans do with such frequency and ease, we don't always realize we're doing it), that allows Tula to lose some of her humanity alongside the loss of human connection, and become more alien while she seeks connection elsewhere.
Think about that for a minute.
Her very humanity helps her become alien and lose her human-ness. I can't begin to tell you how much that aspect of the book pleases me, both as a reader and a ponderer.

Of course, while that may please and make the story infinitely more fascinating to me, that same trait is what may put some readers off the book. Tula becomes progressively more alien-like, and more detached and wooden (and that may be the only instance of me ever using wooden in a good way when describing a book), which intrigues me and makes me curious to see what — if anything — will ever break her out of it. BUT, there are many readers out there that want immediate connection and root-for-ableness, and may give up on Tula and Tin Star when they don't get it. People read to escape, and often they want a character to empathize with and — most of all — want something immediate and engaging and always, always, likable. Many readers may not want to work at finding what Tula has to offer, or may not find what she has to offer worth the effort. And while there's nothing wrong with wanting something that simply entertains and takes your mind off things, or makes your heart race and your stomach somersault, the lack of those bells and whistles is what makes this a love it or hate it book.

So it might make me a bit of an odd duck* that I liked this so much, but as has been shown in the past, I like distant, cold-fish characters. I like it even more so when it's so perfectly suited to the world and the disconnect from our own reality that it goes beyond being a gimmick or a trait, and actually adds a whole new dimension to the story.  Tula's personality and situation adds a sense of loneliness and isolation, which is made even more poignant by the fact that to survive, to keep sane, Tula steadfastly denies to herself that there's even anything wrong. She pretends to be fine, she makes connections only as deeply as she must to get by, but not so much as to get hurt, if she can at all avoid it, and then she gets back to the day to day business of surviving. And in this, she has a remarkable amount in common with the aliens around her. There is a great sense of Otherness that is explored in Tin Star, both for the aliens and Tula, and the ways in which each is demonstrated to be notably Other, while still maintaining some relatable commonality, is just brilliantly and subtly done. The character dynamics worked both in a human, relatable way, and in a way that was wholly foreign and fascinating. For the love of all things bookish, not only did Castellucci make me care about these aliens, but she may have even made me bookcrush on one. Hard.

...so if I haven't scared you off by this long, rambling review, let me just end by saying this gets a very high (a surprisingly high) recommendation from me. I found myself thinking about these characters long after I'd finished the book, and feeling a little bereft that it was over and I couldn't keep exploring their isolated little world and all the differences and sameness that make their dynamics work.  It may not be everyone's cup of tea, but if it sounds like it may be yours, please pick it up and let me know what you think.

*See what I did there? 'Cause Odd Duck is a graphic novel by Cecil Castellucci? Yeah... ;)


  1. I adored this book and wasn't bothered by Tula's lack of hysteria. I found it a logical response to her situation. I found the plot moved briskly and the shifting alliances made the story exciting. I was sad when it ended because I wanted more.

    1. It IS a logical response, and it makes her place in her new world more interesting to explore, I think. Creates possibilities that otherwise wouldn't have been there.

  2. I definitely had a bookcrush on an alien. And I found Tula's voice very compelling, myself.

    1. Yay! So glad I'm not the only one, 'cause that'd be a bit awkward... ;)
      But seriously, glad to hear other people found Tula compelling, 'cause I read so many reviews to the contrary, where people were put off by Tula or found her/the story boring. And I'm just like, whaaa? Come on!

  3. I really fell in love with this one as well and think your rambly review described it more than mine. I like her aloofness and was hoping it wouldn't fall into the category of non series books, as Cecil often only writes standalones. I cannot wait for the next volume!

  4. I like this sort of book once in a while when I'm in a funny mood so I'll keep it in mind. Thanks for putting your thoughts together on it.

    1. Haha. I think this is a good funny mood book. When you're wanting something that pulls away from the pack. =)

  5. Ooooo it sounds so good! I'll have to add this one to my ever growing TBR stack. Thanks for the recommendation!

    1. Let me know what you think if you end up reading it! =)


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