YA Science Fiction

CINDER by Marissa Meyer

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Linh Cinder is the best mechanic in Beijing–partly because she is a cyborg, a fact which she prefers to keep a secret.  When Prince Kai stops by her stall in the market to get help fixing his android, Cinder is immediately smitten by the witty monarch, even though she has heard the rumors that Prince Kai may be forced to marry the evil Luna Queen Levana to prevent a war with the moon.  But as soon as Kai leaves, reality brings her giddy excitement crashing down; one of the other shop owners has caught the plague.  Shortly after Cinder returns home, her beloved stepsister Peony catches the plague as well.  Although Cinder is declared healthy, her furious and heartbroken stepmother blames her for bring the plague into their home and sells Cinder to a medical testing center from which no cyborg has returned alive.  But Cinder’s tests come back all wrong and begin to bring to light the past that she cannot remember.

I am absolutely hooked on this series!  It is the most original and intriguing Cinderella story I ever have read.  I had an initial aversion to the book because about three or four chapters in, the plot point that I assumed was supposed to be the “big reveal” of the book became painfully obvious.  I was a little bit disgusted, thinking, “Well now I’m just going to be annoyed for the rest of the book that the characters are blind to the obvious twist that is beating them over the heads.”  But as I kept reading, I found myself becoming increasingly invested.  Both the characters and the plot are so complex that the story is full of surprises–thoroughly engaging, even though the “big reveal” is dramatic only to the characters.  I highly recommend this exciting, thought-provoking, well-written series!  Thanks for the tip, Vivy.

If you liked Cinder, you might like The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor.

COSMIC by Frank Cottrell Boyce

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Liam has always looked old for his age–really, really old for his age.  In fact, as the only six-foot-tall, bearded twelve year old he knows, he is frequently mistaken for a parent or a teacher.  At first, Liam finds his grow-up appearance to be an annoyance–a reason for kids to make fun of him–and mostly spends time on his own, playing World of Warcraft.  But when his parents encourage him to go out and make friends, he discovers that looking grown up can have its advantages.  Which is how he has the opportunity to ride the terrifying, gravity defying Cosmic at the amusement park.  And how he and Florida, posing as father and daughter, almost get to test drive a Porche at the car dealership (until Liam’s dad catches them at the last minute).  But when Liam finds out about a contest to win the ultimate trip to a new amusement park in China, he becomes Florida’s “dad” once again as they embark on the adventure of a lifetime.  And that is how they end up lost in outer space, and this time, Liam’s dad is nowhere near enough to save the day.

This science fiction novel is funny and poignant, in some ways reminiscent of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  Throughout his “dadly” adventures, Liam learns a lot about what it means to be a parent vs. a kid, and ultimately discovers that even the greatest adventures are not worth as much as his own dad’s love.    I highly recommend this one to middle grade and teen readers.  It would also make a great family read aloud to older elementary age kids, as parents are sure to enjoy it, as well!

ETIQUETTE AND ESPIONAGE by Gail Carriger

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Sophronia’s older sisters are refined and well-mannered Victorian ladies.  But Sophronia is much more interested in climbing around in dumb waiters and tinkering with gadgets than more ladylike pursuits.  So when a highly sought-after finishing school offers Sophronia a place at their academy, her mother ships Sophronia her off immediately.  What her mother does not realize, however, is that Sophronia is a covert recruit to a finishing school that trains evil geniuses in espionage, assassination, and other fascinating arts–in addition to the requisite curtsying and handkerchief manipulation, of course.  Sophronia’s curiosity and climbing skills thrust her into the middle of a skirmish between the school administrators, dangerous flywaymen, and her least favorite fellow pupil–the pompous Monique, who has stolen and hidden a very valuable prototype somewhere off school grounds.  With help from her new school friends, the school’s young mechanics (the “sooties”), and her pet mechanimal (Bumbersnoot), Sophronia is determined to find the prototype before Monique or the flywaymen can get to it.

Set in an alternate 1850s England, this novel is part sci-fi and part fantasy.  There is plenty of machinery to please steampunk fans, and some werewolves and vampires for those who prefer the supernatural. And for readers who enjoy stories about boarding school mischief (think the Marauder’s Map from Harry Potter), it is a very fun read!  I highly recommend it to middle grade and teen readers.

SIDEKICKS by Jack D. Ferraiolo

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When Scott was six years old, being a sidekick to a superhero was awesome.  He got to wear a cool costume and use his super strength and super speed to help Phantom Justice take out the bad guys.  But now at thirteen, “Bright Boy” and his yellow spandex tights that leave nothing to the imagination have become a middle school laughing stock.  Of course no one knows that Scott is Bright Boy; as far as they know, he’s just the friendless loser who sits alone in the cafeteria.  But in a fight with the Phantom’s nemesis, Dr. Chaos, Scott and the Doctor’s sidekick, Monkeywrench, get a glimpse of each other’s faces, and he learns that she is the popular girl Allison from school.  With his identity compromised, Scott tries to befriend Allison to learn her weaknesses.  But as friendship blossoms into something more, Scott finds himself questioning everything he believed about good and evil—and not a moment too soon, because Phantom Justice may not be what he seems.

I really enjoyed this book!  I wish there were a sequel.  I would recommend Sidekicks especially to middle school boys, as puberty is a major theme.  After an accidental and inopportune erection, Scott wonders whether he is normal or “a perv,” but ultimately the reader will see that he is a normal, good kid from his relationship with Allison which is clearly a friendship first and based on respect—and the people calling him a perv turn out to be Evil, so it’s hard to miss the point.  Because of this content, I would hesitate to indiscriminately recommend this book to younger kids or middle school girls who may be uncomfortable with it (just as I rarely recommend books with extensive discussion of “periods” to middle school boys).  But many girls may not find it awkward and just enjoy the book—I certainly did.  I just want to give you a heads up so no one is caught by surprise!

If you liked Sidekicks, you might like Powerless by Matthew Cody.

Anticipated Sequels of 2014–Updated

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There are some cliff-hangers just itching to be resolved this year!  Here are some of the 2014 sequels and series finales for books that I’ve blogged the past couple of years.

Hollow City by Ransom Riggs — released January 2014
The long, long, long awaited sequel to Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children has finally arrived!  I just started it, and a quick piece of advice–make sure you either remember Miss Peregrine really well or you reread it before you start Hollow City.  The sequel picks up exactly where book one left off and it doesn’t give you many reminders.  I know those cheesy shoe-horned in summaries used to drive me nuts when I was a kid (“The main character thought back on his previous year, which had included so many important plot points, such as. . . . “), but now that I don’t have time to reread an entire series every time a new book comes out I’m kind of lost without them.  Just one of the many downsides of adulthood.

The Boy in the Smoke by Maureen Johnson — February 24, 2014
What we really want is a sequel to The Madness Underneath because of the cliff-hanger-of-shock-and-weeping.  But instead she’s giving us a novella prequel to tide us over.  At least we’ll get to hear about Stephen’s childhood.  Not that it will be so much comforting as increase our anxiety and anticipation for . . .

The Shadow Cabinet by Maureen Johnson — September 16, 2014
Ok, Maureen.  Make with the resolution already.

File Under: 13 Suspicious Incidents by Lemony Snicket — April 1, 2014
Speaking of prequels and teasers, 13 short mystery stories starring detective Lemony Snicket will be coming out this April.  But what we are really waiting for is . . 

Shouldn’t You Be in School? by Lemony Snicket–September 30, 2014
Book three in the All the Wrong Questions series.

Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan — October 7, 2014
Percy Jackson’s final installment (take two) will be released this fall and answer all of our burning questions.  Will Gaea’s evil plan succeed and the mortal world perish!?  Ok, we can probably guess the answer to that one.  But is he going to kill off one of the demigods?  I don’t know about you guys, but that prophecy has me kind of antsy… Any guesses about who might break their oath with a final breath?

New YA Sci Fi and Fantasy (2012-2013)

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Although fantasy fans may be disappointed by the scant showing, lovers of The Hunger Games and Divergent will be pleased to see a deluge of new dystopias on the market!  Check out a list of some of the newcomers to YA Sci Fi and Fantasy here!

THE EAR, THE EYE, AND THE ARM by Nancy Farmer

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Tendai, Rita, and Kuda are bored with living in the compound.  In 2194, Zimbabwe is a dangerous place and their father (Zimbabwe’s chief of security) insists that they stay behind the high locked walls and never venture outside.  But curiosity leads the three children to sneak out to explore the slums.  Unfortunately, their sheltered life has not prepared them for the world outside and almost immediately, they are kidnapped.  Frantic, their parents resort to hiring Zimbabwe’s most talented detectives: three mutant outcasts known as the Ear, the Eye, and the Arm.  As the detectives use their special abilities to track the children, Tendai, Rita, and Kuda attempt to escape from their captors and wind up on a wild and dangerous adventure all across the impoverished country.

The dystopian worldview and suspenseful plot of this 1995 Newbery Honor book will be appealing to many fans of the Hunger Games and similar sci-fi novels.  In addition to crafting an exciting plot, Farmer uses the extreme division of classes in her futuristic world to explore the tension between progress and tradition as well as themes of social responsibility.  This book has been one of my favorites since my childhood, and I highly recommend it to middle grade and teen sci-fi fans.