YA Science Fiction

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.

UGLIES by Scott Westerfeld

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Every since she was a Littlie, Tally Youngblood has dreamed of her sixteenth birthday–the day she will become Pretty.  Since the government started providing the Operation to everyone at age sixteen, the social hierarchies surrounding physical attractiveness have dissolved–everyone is equally Pretty.  But until she turns sixteen, Tally is an Ugly, and so long as she’s Ugly, she’s going to have fun riding her hoverboard, playing pranks, dodging the government Wardens, and sneaking into forbidden places, like the Rusty Ruins, the remnants of civilization from before.

But on her sixteenth birthday, everything changes.  Tally’s friend Shay runs away to join an underground community of Ugly rebels in a hidden city called the Smoke.  The agents at Special Circumstances want to catch Shay and destroy the Smoke, and they need Tally.  The Specials give Tally an ultimatum: help them find the Smoke, or stay Ugly forever. Unwilling to face a life of Ugliness, Tally takes the tracking device from Special Circumstances and embarks on a dangerous journey across the wilderness, following a set of cryptic clues that Shay left behind.

Uglies is the first book in a trilogy.  It was a lot of fun to read, especially if you like dystopian/sci-fi books (as I do).  The other two books in the trilogy fell a little flat for me, but they’re still worth reading.  Or you could just read the first one.  (It kind of reminds me of The Matrix: it might be better just to watch the first one because it’s excellent, and assume that the following two involve some serious action and a major overhaul of society. . . . )

If you liked Uglies, you might also like The Bar Code Tattoo by Suzanne Weyn.

THE TRUE MEANING OF SMEKDAY by Adam Rex

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What is the true meaning of Smekday–the day formerly known as Christmas, the day that the Boovish aliens arrived to colonize Earth, and the day the Boov left one year later?  This is the essay question that Gratuity “Tip” Tucci must answer.  The winning essay will be put in a time capsule that will be opened in 100 years. In her three attempts at writing the essay, Tip gradually reveals the story of the Boov’s arrival and the events that followed.

While trying to reach the human reservation in Florida by car, Tip and her cat, Pig, met up with a Boov criminal, who has taken as his Earth name J.Lo. (a name that he believes is a popular Earth name due to its frequent appearance in media publications).  Together they travel across the country searching for Tip’s mom, who was abducted toward the beginning of the invasion. Then Tip, J.Lo, and Pig join forces with a gang of boys who have been hiding in a secret tunnel system under Disney World, and together, they drive the Gorg (another set of invading aliens–much more evil than the Boov) out of Earth.  Throughout her story, Tip includes illustrations and pages of comics drawn by J.Lo who can’t write in English.

This book is both hilarious and poignant, a nice blend of hard- and soft-science fiction, approaching issues of race and prejudice through the blunt, sarcastic, witty voice of 11 yr. old Tip.  The book is written for an upper elementary/middle school reading level.  It is one of my all-time favorites.