Man, I love me some John Scalzi...
Okay. Now that my inner fanboy has settled down, we can talk a little more about the book itself. Zoe's Tale takes the action of Scalzi's The Last Colony and spins it through another's perspective, filtering the story through the unique voice of Zoë Boutin Perry, the adopted daughter of John Perry and Jane Sagan, the "stars" of the previous novels that take place in this universe (and if you haven't read Old Man's War, The Ghost Brigades, or The Last Colony you're missing out on some great stories, my friends). Zoë isn't just your typical 16 year-old girl - she's the last link between the mysterious alien race the Obin, and the person who imbued the Obin with consciousness, Charles Boutin, Zoë 's deceased father. The Obin hold Zoë up as a sort of goddess - she is a key piece of a treaty that was later hammered out between the Obin and the Colonial Union, the humanity's galactic government. What begins as a mission to colonize a new world turns into something decidedly more, Zoë's world is completely changed, and her role in saving not only her parents but the planet takes on a much larger scope that the previous novels only hinted at.
Scalzi manages that rare trick, particularly in science fiction in particular: he writes a young character that is completely believable with regards to age (something nominee Cory Doctorow does as well in Little Brother). His Zoë displays all the requisite attributes your typical heroine needs: witty banter, near superhuman resolve and luck...but he wraps that package up in a character that is full of doubts and fear, prone to blow up and not listen, and care about the things it seems only children care about. In other words, all the things a normal 16 year old does. The fact that Zoë is also a girl, something Scalzi freely admits to not being, nor even understanding when he was that age, makes the trick even more beautiful.
The writing is vintage Scalzi - full of fast action, great dialog and ideas that hover around the crazy without ever once stepping over. There's a lot of focus on Zoe's Tale being written with Young Adults in mind, and in that regard it's an outstanding success, but don't let that negatively impact your decision to read it. The biggest compliment I can pay John Scalzi and all his books is that while I'm reading them I never feel like I'm looking at words on a page: I'm living inside the world he creates, and I'm swept along the tides of story with everyone else.