This is a highly regarded first novel; it was the first runner-up in the Philip K. Dick competition for best original SF paperback, and the author was nominated for the Campbell Award for Best New Writer of Science Fiction, based primarily on this novel.
The book is set on a future Human colony (Mandala); it has been 150 some years since the colonists last saw Earth, but they are not 'Lost'; they are just a long way from Earth. Earth received their messages and has sent another ship, with more colonists (frozen), animal stock, plants, and useful gadgets. Matter of fact, due to advanced technology, the Earthys are arriving sooner than expected.
The local government is not happy about this. The Prime Minister and his Head of Defense are black-hearted villains, who see their control of the colony threatened by the Earthys. So when the Earthys arrive, they go up and massacre the non-frozen crew (roughly 15 men and women), all except for one small linguist, who escapes to a shuttle. The shuttle is a dead end; no fuel, so the villains return to Mandala, lying about where they've been and what happened.
Luckily for Humanity, the 10 year old son of a colonist, Drew, has a special communications hook-up to enable him to hear and speak. He was born deaf and dumb, inherited from his Mother's genes, which were damaged during the colonist's trip to settle Mandala. Drew has established communication with an entity he considers God, though there are early indications that Drew's God is in space and is AI-like. Drew gets told that the Earthys have arrived, and tells his parents, who ignore him. The parents are generally self-absorbed; the father is a scientist/engineer turned Missionary, who visits the fourth component in this story, the Burnouts. These are colonists who have opted out of the controlled colony life to settle in the next valley in a sort of Hippie Freedom, complete with a native drug they trip out on. Unfortunately, Drew's father is as clueless and blind to the Burnouts as he is to Drew, and consequently the black-hearted villains find out what Drew knows and kidnap him.
Needless to say, all of the factions eventually wind up in space, clearing out misconceptions and being forced to change many of their world views. How they get there makes for an exciting plot, if occasionally a bit strained. But the relatively straight-forward narrative of the good guys figuring out what the bad guys are doing and fighting them off is interspersed with excerpts (as chapter headings) from the original Log of the ship, named the Walt Disney, that brought the colonists to Mandala, or from the Captain's Journal. The Captain had a religious conversion during the trip, based on his interpretation of quantum physics, and his religion has become the State Religion of Mandala. What lifts this book above the average are precisely those discussions, which combine advanced physics discussions with some heady theology. The characters of Drew's parents reinterpret that theology, responding to the events of the story.
It is unusual to read a book which genuinely tries to establish a religious base for actions that is not a parody of some existing organized religion here on Earth. Wharton is to be commended for his ingenuity; if and when his ability to create three dimensional characters catches up to his imagination and his scientific knowledge, he could live up to his book blurbs.
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