There are plenty of books out there about powerful young women. In these stories the female protagonists usually either have super powers or were born as magical semi-human beings. "The Keeper of the Isis Light" is a little different than partly because the main character spends much of the book in a complete fog about her life, her capabilities, and who she truly is. The book is as much about overcoming the prejudices of others as it is about the meaning of happiness and its importance. If you're looking for a book that explores deep emotional and spiritual issues in a sci-fi context, I think you've found your match.
Olwen Pendennis was born on the planet Isis ten years ago (sixteen by Earth's sun). Living alone with only her faithful companion Guardian to keep her company, Olwen leads a rich and exciting life on her planet's surface. As the official Keeper of the Isis Light, Olwen's job is to maintain the signal that radios information about Isis's surface to Earth for future colonists. When these settlers appear one day, Olwen finds her world strangely shaken. Guardian has done his best to keep Olwen safe and happy while living on Isis, but now she must deal with other people and all the good and bad things humans can do. Through it all, Olwen discovers truths about herself and her own inner strength and abilities that she might never have found while living contentedly on her own. In the end, the reader is left wondering whether or not it's a good thing Olwen met with these colonists and, if good, how.
I was incredibly disappointed that the book flap accompanying this little novella gave away too many of the book's delightful secrets. My advice to you if you want to read this story is to go into it blind. Don't read any more of the synopsis than the one I've given you above. It'll only ruin the surprises that dot this intricate book. There are many things to love here as well. The plot is tight and well formed. Olwen never questions her happy existence until the moment that things begin to change. In many ways she's like Miranda in "The Tempest". In another, she's Caliban. Author Monica Hughes is particularly good as conjuring up a visual sense of the Isis landscape. In this story you see the planet as the heroine does and you regret (as she does) that settlers have arrived to muck it up. I also loved the Guardian in this tale. A character that professes to not feel emotions, he often belies this idea by growing agitated, touched, or worried at key moments.
Now for my favorite part of any review. The flaws! Actually, there aren't many to complain about in this book. Originally published in 1980, "The Keeper of the Isis Light" suffers from a few pre-P.C. terms. A black child, for example, is referred to as "negroid" at one point. Later, that same child (though supposedly nine years of age) acts far more like a six year old. Thus ends my summary of all flaws this book contains. As you can see, they're few in number.
Great science fiction books use metaphors and grandiose plots to discuss universal ideas. In many ways, "The Keeper of the Isis Light" is very similar to the great Sylvia Engdahl book, "Enchantress From the Stars". Both books talk about prejudice and feature incredibly strong female characters. In this book, however, there are some uniquely emotional moments. The story is written in a crisp approachable style that will never go out of date. If you've a kid interested in sci-fi or just wants a low key introduction to it, this book is the perfect offering. A book that will be well remembered for years to come (I hope).