Glow by Amy Kathleen Ryan
About two years ago, I read an advance reader copy - an ARC, for short - of the book Glow. I was very impressed with this new-to-me author; Ryan has written some other books, so she's not a completely new author. But she is new to the intergalactic space opera, and she's done wonderfully with it so far.
One of the first things I noticed about Glow was that it had a terrible, terrible summary - though in a way, I was glad it was kind of awful, rather than giving away the book's biggest issues. According to the summary, this book is a love triangle in space, but it quickly became clear that it's a lot deeper than that. (This Kirkus review does a great job of summarizing without giving it away!)
Waverly (I hate that name) is headed for New Earth, along with everyone else on their ship. She's dating Kieran, and everyone figures they'll probably get married and have lots of fat, happy babies. (This is kind of a big pressure, as their survival on this new planet depends on massive reproduction.) Waverly's mostly happy; Seth, another kid her age, is in her peripheral vision.
Enter the New Horizon, their sister ship, which suddenly popped out of the nebula. There are no children at all aboard - all of their women have been rendered sterile. And they're getting desperate to have their own kids and help repopulate New Earth. (Though mostly, they're portrayed as an extreme version of baby crazy.)
I hadn't expected reproduction and religion in this young adult scifi, but there they were, cleverly debated and very well articulated from the start. In fact, I think these were Ryan's main focus for the series; these ships could be traveling underwater instead, and the ideas would still be the focus. (If you can manage to get past them, there are some fairly heavy science issues in this series - a punctured hull does not equate to "gentle breezes" on all decks.)
Despite the lack of hard science, I was also impressed with the realism of the kids on board the spaceship Empyrean - their emotional reactions all seemed very realistic. This trait continues in the second book, accurately depicting how those 15 and under might react if thrust into an adult job while dealing with the stress of sabotage and family issues at the same time.
That said, Kieran is a bit unrealistic in the first book, but he seems to gain ground in the second one. Waverly is easily the most developed character, though part of it might be that she faces more relatable issues aboard the New Horizon.
I had to wait two years for Spark to finally come out, and I think the wait was worth it. The same issues are pertinent here, but with a bit more focus on ship politics in the hands of teenagers. Characters are haunted by the recent past, and everyone is looking for someone to blame.
This is a series written for teenagers, which is part of why the faulty science and some weaker characters don't bother me as much. I view this series as a clever way to get teens to branch out their reading and consider some very heavy issues at the same time.
The Sky Catchers series is being compared left and right to The Hunger Games, and for very good reasons: there's high action, kids fighting in an enclosed space with limited weapons, and a higher adult authority to contend with. One of the big differences, though, is there is no clear good and evil, black and white. Everything is depicted in greyscale - I love that in a book.
Hang on, though - I have one more issue to bring up: the different covers. The cover of Spark shows the new cover theme: ladies with heavy eye makeup and sultry stares, pouting into the distance while their problems unfold behind them.
I hate how lackadaisical young adult covers are lately. Every girl on a book cover has outrageous makeup, a ridiculous dress, and/or is half dead. Enough. Why can't there be a cover that actually depicts what's in the book? Adults would not stand for this B.S.; why do marketers think teenagers don't give a damn? I can name at least half a dozen who would be ticked off by these cover themes. Here's a great in-depth analysis of YA covers - totally worth a look.