Academy 7 is the most exclusive school in the universe. Only the most promising students are accepted into its freshman class: fifty pupils each year, all of them keenly aware that those who succeed at the Academy will go on to be the future of the Alliance. Those who don't will be cut before the second year.
Rebellious and handsome Dane Madousin doesn't think he has a shot at making the cut to the second year. He's pretty sure his influential father will pull him from the school the moment he can, but he's determined to make the most of it while it lasts. For Aerin Renning, acceptance into Academy 7 is more than just an opportunity for academic success. It's a matter of life and death. Life, if she manages to conceal her true identity and remain at the school. As good as death, if they find out she doesn't belong there at all. Worse, if they find out where she does belong, and send her back there.
It's imperative that Aerin keeps her true identity a secret. But when she meets Dane, initial rivalry soon turns into a deep bond. Suddenly, it's not so easy to hide any more...
Observation: there really aren't enough YA titles set on other planets. Sure, we're starting to be spoilt for choice when it comes to dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction, and that is a Good Thing. But there's more to sci-fi than this world gone bad. Generation ships, hyperspace, bio domes - where are they? And don't point me to the actual sci-fi section, I don't want to be there. I like my sci-fi soft or social, and that's why the YA variety appeals to me. It's just that there's a whole universe out there to be explored, and I want to call shotgun.
So, when I heard that Academy 7 is set in a world where interplanetary travel is a way of life, I was all over it. I'd very nearly missed the fact that this is a sci-fi title: the summary isn't overly space-y, and the cover doesn't give much away either. This puzzled me at first - the opening is all control panels and distress signals, but in actual fact this isn't a story about space travel. It's a story about Aerin and Dane, who just happen to live in a universe where you can pilot your own spaceship home from school for the holidays. It's not hardcore sci-fi, and I have no idea how the planet-hopping is meant to be possible, but I don't care. It's fun.
Still, it's safe to say that this book would appeal more to YA readers looking to dabble in a little sci-fi, than sci-fi readers looking to dabble in YA fiction. It's a character-driven romance, first and foremost, with great chemistry between the two leads.
However, there's definitely a point to this novel being set in the universe Osterlund has chosen, beyond the fact that space travel is a hoot. Where Academy 7 really excels is in its sympathetic portrayal of a girl who has escaped from unimaginable brutality and just wants to be allowed to make a life for herself in a free society - a society which has its own agenda for choosing which dictatorships to intervene in and which to stay out of. The reader is given an opportunity to think about Aerin's predicament outside of any pre-conceived ideas they may have about foreign policy in their own world. So, while the romance of Academy 7 could just as easily have been set on 21st-century Earth, Osterlund has found an interesting way to give readers a little perspective on some pressing issues us Earthlings grapple with. It's smooth, and I like it.
Academy 7 is a great introduction to the genre for anyone who doesn't want to jump straight in to hardcore sci-fi. The romance is sweet, and Osterlund has definitely established a universe with plenty of potential for a sequel. Romance fans will find this an unusual and touching read.