Alone Out Here by Riley Redgate

Alone Out Here by Riley Redgate. Hyperion, 2022. 9781368064729

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 3.5

Format: ARC (publication date April, 2022)

Genre: Science fiction

What did you like about the book?  It’s 2072 and Earth’s scientists have predicted a planet-killing volcanic eruption in our near future. In response, nations unite to create a fleet of ships and a lottery system to save 1% of the planet’s inhabitants and send them on a journey of millennia so that their descendents can populate a distant planet.   But the volcano’s seemingly early eruption throws these plans into disarray, and sends a visiting group of 54 teens into space alone on a prototype ship. They’re the children of politicians, dignitaries, and highly skilled technicians from around the world, including the main character, First Daughter Leigh Chen. It soon becomes apparent that the Lazarus is not ready for the voyage, lacking the skilled personnel, food supplies, and seeds it needs to sustain life on board. What begins as a space opera devolves into a survival story with Leigh struggling to come to terms with the increasingly warped directives coming from Eli (the designated pilot and captain) and her cadre of leaders. Speaking to Leigh’s conscience is Anis, her designated love interest who hails from Egypt, and Caro, daughter of the Kenyan president. Redgate uses the SF storyline to explore moral quandaries, such as self-sacrifice versus self-preservation, and geopolitical issues, such as corruption and the hegemony of developed nations. The trauma inflicted on the teens as they are ripped away from everything and everyone they’ve ever known is a fascinating topic and Leigh’s gradual recognition of the importance of recognizing and acting on that damage caught my interest. Redgate’s muscular prose does a great job of describing the ship and its cavernous hold, designed for multitudes but now holding only a handful. She’s also skilled at using dialogue to advance plot while making it still sound natural and spinning complicated action sequences that involve spacewalks, fights, and tech-talk.

Anything you didn’t like about it? This book owes a significant debt to The Lord of the Flies and the further it went down that path, the less interested I became. Leigh is Ralph, the spokesperson who’s trying desperately to keep things together, while Eli is Jack, the power-hungry force of barbarism. The plot (initially focused on reaching an abandoned outpost to look for seeds before embarking on their journey) gradually morphs into a battle over whether to return to Earth, which leads up to an unnecessary plot twist at the end (no spoilers here). I also found the world building underwhelming. How could scientists predict a volcanic eruption years in the future? What’s the science behind the Lazarus and its many systems? 

To whom would you recommend this book?  Teens who like their SF simple, with plenty of action and not so much messy character development. This would be a good read-alike suggestion for fans of Brandon Sanderson or Veronica Roth. The fact that it’s a stand alone novel will make it very appealing to one-and-done readers.

Who should buy this book? Middle, high school, and public libraries

Where would you shelve it? YA fiction, science fiction if you genre-fy

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: February 25, 2022

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