Binti is a teenager of the Himba people, a rather insular minority greatly outnumbered by the majority Khoush. Insular though they are, the Himba have become specialists in mathematics, "harmonizing," and the making of astrolabes, apparently this era's smartphones. And Binti, young as she is, is already a Master Harmonizer, the most promising candidate to take over the family business from her father when he retires.
Except that Binti has won a scholarship to Oomza University, a very distinguished school--and on another planet. Her family is shocked at the very idea that Binti would actually accept it and go--but their dreams are not her dreams, and she does. And on her way there, the ship she's on is attacked and boarded by the Meduze, an alien species that has a very real and serious grievance against Oomza University.