A cover blurb suggests that Nina Kiriki Hoffman is "this generation's Ray Bradbury." That seems almost entirely wrong, but it is hard to think who would be a more valid comparison. Peter S Beagle, perhaps. Hoffman is more familiar from her modern fantasies regarding the interlocking lives of people touched by magic of one form or another. But in this short novel, she is doing something very different, a science fiction novel of first contact. And in the process, she has created a some genuinely unique aliens and alien biology.
As in her fantasies, Hoffman always surprises. Dramatic tension rarely resolves in a way that is familiar or expected. Situations that appear to be frightening often turn out to be benign, enemies find surprising common ground (as with the protagonist and the bully who is chasing him as the story opens). Conversations and character development take odd and surprising turns.
In some respects, this seems to be a young adult novel. The protagonist starts out beleaguered, but by the end seems on his way to developing his confidence and autonomy. There are some brief scenes involving sex, including a sexualized encounter with the aliens that is handled in a matter-of-fact manner that seems not at all salacious. I am hopeful that as she has in her fantasies, Hoffman will write more stories that interlock with this one. There is clearly room for sequels, as well as for further development of some of the incidental characters.