Published May 7th 2013 by Strange Chemistry
Source: review copy from publisher via NetGalley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Goodreads summary: When you're studying to be exoveterinarian specializing in exotic, alien life forms, school... is a different kind of animal.
Best-selling author Mike Mullin (Ashfall) calls Zenn Scarlett "...delightful, bizarre, and occasionally terrifying." Melissa West (Gravity) says it’s “Utterly imaginative… sci-fi at its best. Fantastic world-building. Deep characters... I couldn’t put it down!” And Temple Grandin (Animals in Translation) says "All future vets will want to read Zenn Scarlett and her adventures with veterinary medicine on alien animals."
Zenn Scarlett is a resourceful, determined 17-year-old girl working hard to make it through her novice year of exovet training. That means she's learning to care for alien creatures that are mostly large, generally dangerous and profoundly fascinating. Zenn’s all-important end-of-term tests at the Ciscan Cloister Exovet Clinic on Mars are coming up, and, she's feeling confident of acing the exams. But when a series of inexplicable animal escapes and other disturbing events hit the school, Zenn finds herself being blamed for the problems. As if this isn't enough to deal with, her absent father has abruptly stopped communicating with her; Liam Tucker, a local towner boy, is acting unusually, annoyingly friendly; and, strangest of all: Zenn is worried she's started sharing the thoughts of the creatures around her. Which is impossible, of course. Nonetheless, she can't deny what she's feeling.
Now, with the help of Liam and Hamish, an eight-foot sentient insectoid also training at the clinic, Zenn must learn what's happened to her father, solve the mystery of who, if anyone, is sabotaging the cloister, and determine if she's actually sensing the consciousness of her alien patients... or just losing her mind. All without failing her novice year....
When I was a kid, I wanted to be a vet. (I gave up on that idea the moment I saw our local vet spaying a dog. I don't have the guts for that.) Add to it my love for sci-fi, and there was no way this book could go wrong for me. I knew I'd love this book the moment I saw the cover and read the blurb. I didn't love it. I adore it.
As far as Zenn goes-you may be cool, but you'll never be I-cure-alien-animal-forms cool. I felt that Christian Schoon captured the voice of a teenage girl better than many female authors did. Zenn is dedicated to her studies and is passionate about helping animals, but she is just as passionate about shattering prejudice and narrow-mindedness of fellow human inhabitants on Mars whose ignorance often leads to hatred of everything "alien".
Zenn is a character that grows and learns in the course of the novel. It's a minor spoiler to say that Zenn has a special connection to animals, as a result of an incident that happens on the first few pages. Even though it is not fully explained, we have enough info to make some conclusions. It was therefore all the more interesting watching Zenn defend her scientific beliefs that I believe will be challenged in the sequel.
The scientific aspect captured me as well. I think I recall a documentary where someone mentioned an experimental theory similar to the one that Christian Schoon describes, about the theory of how Indra are used for interstellar transportation. Sometimes it sounds scientific, sometimes metaphysical, to some people it's a matter of religion. A clash of faith vs science, something that I assume will keep Zenn occupied in the sequel as well.
The only reason why this isn't a shining five star review is that I found the plot twist slightly predictable. I could smell the rat quite quickly.
Of all the creatures that Schoon brings to life, my favorite were Katie, Zenn's adorable and intelligent marsupial pet, and Hamish, a bug-like sexton who finds humans just as puzzling as they find him.
Treat yourself to Zenn Scarlett. It's a delight for fans of YA, sci-fi and animal lovers.