One of the best first contact stories I ever read, Starbridge is timeless. Both a YA coming of age tale of a young woman traveling on her uncle's starship amongst the stars, a romance, and a story of humans encountering new alien life forms, the story works as well today as it did when it was first written and published 20 years ago.
Mahree is on her way to study on Earth, after growing up on a colony planet, when her uncle's ship encounters a message from possible alien life. An investigation leads them to a neighboring star system where they encounter the Simiu, sentient beings who are lionesque in appearance. A culture which places great value on honor, soon the humans find themselves challenged over cross cultural misunderstandings typical to two races who have never encountered each other before.
When the Simiu imprison her starship, Mahree and her Simiu friend, Dhurrrkk' steal a small ship and head for the headquarters of The Cooperate League of Systems, a bit of an interplanetary United Nations, which the Simiu desperately want to join. Hoping League leaders will intervene, Mahree and Dhurrrkk' risk their lives escaping to set their plan in motion. As they depart, the ship's doctor, Rob Gable, stumbles onto them, forcing them to take him along.
In the course of their journey, Mahree and Rob fall in love, and all three meet a fungus-like alien they label "Blanket" who produces oxygen just as their life support systems have run out. Joining them for the final leg of their journey, Blanket wins Earth an invitation to join the League, while Mahree and Dhurrrkk' convince League leaders to mediate between the Simiu and the imprisoned Earth starship crew.
Mahree's character is extremely well drawn and complex, and we get to see her grow from a brooding teenager into a responsible woman who makes a significant contribution to diplomacy and finds a future career.
Rob, Dhyrrrkk, Blanket and several other characters are also well drawn, great additions. The story is family friendly, although Mahree's romance with Rob does involve a few love scenes.
The story does not seem dated at all. And the complexity of the world building here is fascinating.
As a long time fan of Crispin, who's used to her tie-ins more than original works, it was fun to see how inventive and gifted she can be working beyond the constraints of someone else's sandbox. Worth rediscovering if you haven't read it. A highly recommended read!