YA Science Fiction

NATION by Terry Pratchett

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In a parallel reality to Victorian England, a plague wipes out most of the country’s population–including the first one-hundred-thirty-nine people in line for the throne. The remnants of the British government must locate the next closest heir and his daughter, Ermintrude, both of whom are abroad.

At the same time, a giant tidal wave destroys a particular island nation. Only young Mau, who was away on a journey to become a man, has survived.  He has left his boy soul on the island, so he arrives back at the Nation—not a boy, not a man, soulless—to bury the bodies of everyone he has ever known. The wave also wrecks the ship carrying Ermintrude back to England. The princess alone survives the wreck and leaves her old identity behind, changing her name to Daphne.  Together, Mau and Daphne try to fathom the tragedy and rebuild their lives as other survivors begin to arrive on the island.

Pratchett does not conceal the grotesque reality of death.  Nor does he avoid the intense spiritual and emotional questions that accompany the clash of cultures in a post-apocalyptic world.  The characters wrestle with identity, cultural heritage, language, racial prejudice, religion, friendship, love, and grief. The philosophical questions are subtle and inconclusive, deftly woven into the narrative.  And underlying all of it is Terry Pratchett’s quirky sense of humor–especially poignant in this dark context.  Although written for young adults, Nation resonates with a broad audience.  It will keep you thinking even after you put the book down!

THE BAR CODE TATTOO by Suzanne Weyn

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Kayla has always been suspicious of the bar code tattoo.  Most people have switched over to the tattoo, throwing away their credit cards and driver’s licenses and allowing all of their bank accounts and important identifying information to be encoded on their arms for easy scanning and retrieval.  As Kayla’s seventeenth birthday approaches, her friend Amber tries to convince her to get the tattoo, but Kayla’s father has been acting strange ever since he got the tattoo himself.  When he commits suicide, her whole world turns upside down.  As her mother slips away into depression, and Amber’s parents are inexplicably fired and forced to move their family across the country, Kayla begins to get involved with Project Decode, a grassroots resistance movement run by an attractive, enigmatic boy named Zekeal who Kayla can’t help but fall in love with.

This book is a fast-paced dystopian suspense story, along the lines of The Hunger Games and Uglies.  It was recommended to me by a fifth-grader, but I think it would appeal most to middle and high school age teens.  Thanks for the recommendation, Laura!  It was a very fun read!

FOUND by Margaret Peterson Haddix

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The letter only had six words, and though they didn’t mean anything to Jonah, he found them somehow disturbing: “You are one of the missing.”  When he learns that his friend Chip received the same letter, they realize that something strange is definitely going on.  As more mysterious letters arrive, the two friends and Jonah’s sister, Katherine, begin to investigate the situation, which seems to have some connection to the FBI, and the fact that Jonah was adopted.  But if things weren’t strange enough, level-headed Katherine claims she’s seen a ghost, and Jonah may have seen a mysterious intruder vanish from his bedroom.  As matters get increasingly complicated, the teens begin to suspect that they are caught up in something much bigger than they realized, and perhaps beyond anything they ever imagined to see in this world.

Found is a suspenseful sci-fi mystery that starts off Haddix’s “The Missing” series.  It is followed by Sent and Sabotaged, and four more books are likely to join the series in the coming years.  It’s a fast, fun read for teens!

THE DEATH COLLECTOR by Justin Richards

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“Four days after his own funeral, Albert Wilkes came home for tea.”  This sentence begins a novel that is part mystery, part historical fiction, part science fiction, and part horror–with a healthy dose of Victorian London fog.  Although few people believe the widow who claims her dead husband came home for a visit, Albert’s coworker George soon begins to suspect that someone murdered the old man to get their hands on a fragment of a scientist’s diary.  A top-secret organization recruits George to help them investigate the situation, but George begins doing some sleuthing on his own as well, with the help of a theatrical young woman named Elizabeth, who met when they both had their wallets stolen by a plucky young pickpocket.  Eddie, the pickpocket, of course gets mixed up in the mystery as well.  The trail of their individual investigations always seem to lead back to the same sinister old man in his mansion.  And there may be more than one zombie on the prowl.  The question is: can they figure out what is really going on before the maniac’s henchmen catch up with them?

The premise of this book is admittedly outrageous, but the story is truly engaging.   I definitely recommend it to those readers who are willing to put the absurdity aside and enjoy a great steampunk suspense story.  I know I did!

I listened to the audio book, narrated by Steven Pacey, which was a great performance!

THE BLENDING TIME by Michael Kinch

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Jaym, D’Shay, and Reya meet on a their voyage over to Africa where they have all been assigned by the Global Alliance government to mate with members of the native population, all of whom were sterilized by a solar flare.  When they arrive in Africa, however, things are not as straightforward as they had hoped.  The three seventeen year olds are sent to different villages.  Reya is kidnapped by renegades en route and forced to become the “Bossman’s” lover.  D’Shay’s blending partner is not enthusiastic about him as a mate and hires street thugs to kill him.  And although Jaym reaches his village easily and  he and his blending assignment, Lingana genuinely like one another, his presence brings the threat of renegade invasion.

Overall, I found this book disappointing.   The futuristic elements were clumsily forced in through extensive explication, and the characters were predictable and flat.  But once they arrived in Africa and started battling renegades, the action picked up and kept me going through it.  If you read for characters, I would not recommend this book, but if you are just looking for an action-packed plot line, it might be worth reading.

SHIP BREAKER by Paolo Bacigalupi

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In Nailer’s world, you need luck to survive.  You can be small and able to work on light crew, stripping copper from shipwrecks for low pay.  Or you can be strong on heavy crew, breaking down the larger metal salvage.  But if you get an infection, you won’t be able to get medication, and you’ll die of fever.  If you get stuck inside a wreck you’ll drown, or choke in the dust and oil, and the rats will eat you.  Of course, even if you have no bad luck and are smart enough to do everything right, you still die on the beach sooner or later.  Unless you get a really lucky strike. . . .

After a huge “city killer” hurricane, Nailer and Pima find an isolated wreck and hurry to get the first scavenge.  But when they find a rich girl still alive, they have to make a choice.  Pima suggests two options: cut the ringed fingers off her swollen hands while she’s alive, or slit her throat first.  The girl is, after all, a great scavenge–a true lucky strike.  With just the gold rings on her fingers they could feed themselves and more—maybe never have to work again.  But Nailer chooses to save her instead, knowing that this decision might be the last he ever makes.   Now he and “Lucky Girl” must somehow escape the clutches of her rich father’s corporate enemies and Nailer’s abusive, drug-addict father who wants to turn Lucky Girl in for ransom.

This post-apocalyptic vision of Earth’s future is very violent and very dark.  Bacigalupi explores the meaning of family and loyalty and challenges readers to reflect on human treatment of the environment and the extreme gap in wealth and lifestyle between the heads of corporations and the lowest level industry workers.  Ship Breaker took the 2011 Printz Award (for Young Adult Literature) and was a finalist for the National Book award.  It is a great read for teens and adults.

ARTEMIS FOWL by Eoin Colfer

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Artemis Fowl, Jr., is not your average twelve-year-old.  For one thing, he is the son of an incredibly wealthy crime lord and has grown up surrounded by advanced technology and bodyguards.  For another, since his father’s disappearance and the onset of his mother’s mental illness, Artemis has virtually no adult supervision, managing his own life and the family’s assets.  And most importantly, Artemis is a genius.  It is precisely his unique position on the boundary of childhood and very mature adulthood that allows him to perpetrate his latest scheme–because when he learned of the existence of fairies, he was just innocent enough to believe in them, and plenty brilliant enough to concoct a foolproof plan to extort their gold.

After stealing the Book of the People from an alcoholic sprite in Vietnam, Artemis returns to his home in Ireland to crack the fairy language and learn all of their secrets.  He then proceeds to Phase Two of the plan: kidnap a fairy and hold him for ransom, threatening to reveal their secret, underground world to the humans if the Lower Elements Police (LEP) do not comply with his financial demands.  Unfortunately for Artemis, he kidnapped Captain Holly Short, an officer in the LEP Recon division, and she just may be his match.  While Artemis uses his brilliant mind to stay one step ahead of Commander Root and the LEP technology, and his formidable bodyguard Butler keeps the perimeter secure, Holly tries to find a way to escape and take down the super-genius “mud-man.”

This book is a great blend of science fiction and fantasy, popular among upper elementary and middle grade readers (and certain nerdy librarians . . . ).  The characters are fantastic, there is a decent amount of action, and humor is blended in quite nicely.  I highly recommend this series to both eager and reluctant readers.  There are eight books in the series.