Earth Star by Janet Edwards
Following the events of Earth Girl, Jarra is now perhaps one of the most famous "apes" of all time, while restricted to Earth because of her immune system's inability to withstand other worlds, she's already helped saved dozens of people on Earth and is moving quite happily towards her dream of being an archeologist. But the past often holds clues to the future, not just concerning the Earth but with celestial matters as well.
I would like to note here that I didn't get the title, would have worked much better for Earth Girl, since the Earth Star is the name of one of the awards Jarra receives, but here it seems like Edwards is trying too hard to make a thematic, naming sequence.
Moving onto something actually important, as was the case in Earth Girl, this book lacks traditional, external conflicts since every large force opposing Jarra is unchangeable. She's handicapped, she will never leave Earth, therefore she will never be able to change everyone's perception of the handicapped, and you can tell that on some level she's fine with this. She loves Earth's history and even though her original goal was to shock her classmates by revealing she's an "ape" the story showed that desire as one where she wasn't fully confident about herself and she now has the confidence. She's still not quite happy when someone else suddenly reveals this but she's now focused on smaller, more important things in her life which is a perfectly fine narrative choice to make and my statement from the first review still stands: I like that this is a true utopia and by eliminating traditional "large" conflicts (like evil overlords) the story is able to focus on slightly different conflicts than usual which is a rather fun change of pace.
However, while the character development seemed just a bit shaky in the first book it seems just as shaky in this second book which is bad, by this point the characters risk feeling very two-dimensional and in retrospect have oddly stunted emotions. There are several points in the book where Jarra really should get angry and doesn't, it's supposed to come off as a mature move for her, that she's putting aside personal feelings for the greater good, but instead it feels as if all of the "good" characters are perfect and even when they make a questionable move it's the "right" thing to do so of course the other characters can't get mad at them! And Jarra's actual moments of bad thinking, as the other characters are quick to point out, are so strange as to be irrational, not out of character (since she does it often enough to be in-character) but it doesn't quite work. I think that Edwards was going for a bit of an action hero with Jarra, she's daring, intelligent, and while she mostly follows the rules she will break them but it's okay since that will turn out for the best in the long run which isn't the kind of character you should have in a second book if you're trying to have character development. And all of the reoccurring characters from the first book have either been side-lined or are even flatter, Fian's role in the story at points it's explicitly said to be her boyfriend and while it's nice that the story says it and acknowledges it that doesn't make the writing any better.
And yet, despite the fact that it has these pretty serious flaws, I liked this book. It's an optimistic, fun, "what-if" look at the future that we so rarely get, heck I was reading it to and from Interstellar and certainly preferred it's warm view of the future where humanity has problems but not disasters to Interstellar's very bleak view of human nature. I won't call it a guilty pleasure since I don't feel guilty at all that I've found a series that fills a void in my sci-fi reading but I do wish it was stronger so that I could recommend it without reservations. And to touch on the actual plot for just a moment, that aliens have in fact attempted to contact Earth and that humans are just now realizing it, I thought that Edwards handled that plot line remarkably well. I liked the combination of the fact that aliens did observe Earth but that they must have come from so far away that it's almost a moot point a nice touch, even though these books don't dive into deep technical explanations they're among the hardest sci-fi I've come across in YA fiction. Honestly I felt that the human reaction to this, shorts bit of sheer panic and then lots of downtime with planning and waiting, is probably exactly what will happen if we ever find another life, intelligent or not. I don't know if this plot thread comes back in the third book but as soon as I can convince one of my library systems to get a copy of the book (which only seems to exist on Amazon US as a paperback with no publishing date yet it has reviews!) I will certainly be back for more of this flat character, distinctly realized setting series.