Although I started with what might be dubbed Robert Heinlein’s YA novels, I quickly moved on to Stranger in a Strange Land and then outward into Ray Bradbury, Philip Jose Farmer, and other writers for SF for adults. My huge enjoyment of the genre has continued to this day, as a glance at my GoodReads SF shelf will testify.
As a Children’s Librarian, I have naturally attempted to foster an SF obsession in my young patrons, but with limited results. The reason? There simply aren’t very many books for kids that represent the truly awesome power of SF at its best. There are of course plenty of goofy SF titles, the old chestnut Stinker from Space by Pamela Service being a prime example. Sure, it’s very entertaining, but mostly because of its humor; it’s unlikely that reading Stinker will awaken an urge to read more SF as a result. My Teacher is an Alien and other similar titles by Bruce Coville are other examples of supremely funny books with plenty of child appeal – but little in them to create that SF urge.
While great SF often does contain humor, it must do something more than entertain the reader. The SF that I find most engrossing makes me ponder important issues and intriguing possibilities, poses questions about morality and the role and definition of humankind in a changing world, and takes me on a mind-bending adventure, whether in the far reaches of space or right here on earth.
Luckily, there seems to be a resurgence of SF for kids and teens, and some fabulous books have been published in the past few years that should prove alluring to SF fans and newbies alike. Most are for ages 12 and up – the very complexity of some of the themes makes them a natural for teen readers. Here are some of the most toothsome:
Adlington, L.J The Diary of Pelly D. (Greenwillow, 2005) and Cherry Heaven (Greenwillow, 2008).
Fine examples of a dystopian future, in this case on an earth-colonized planet. Astute readers will recognize parallels with the Holocaust.
Collins, Suzanne. Hunger Games. (Scholastic, 2008)
This got huge buzz (although no awards) in 2008 for a very good reason – a strong female character, plenty of kill-or-be-killed action, and powerful, thought-provoking social commentary. Another dystopian civilization of the future.
Doctorow, Cory. Little Brother. (Tor Teen, 2008)
This dystopian future – a highly invasive police state in San Francisco – could happen next month or next year if we aren’t careful. A bunch of teen hackers rebel against a nasty over-protective government that doesn’t hesitate to step on any rights necessary to “protect” its citizens.
Farmer, Nancy. The House of the Scorpion. (Atheneum, 2002)
This is intense stuff. What will happen when cloning humans is a reality? Even if strict laws are put in place, what is to stop very rich and immoral people from growing their own clones in order to provide them with perfectly matched livers and such? And are those clones people or things?
Pearson, Mary E. The Adoration of Jenna Fox. (Holt, 2008).
If a teenaged girl is composed of an uploaded personality and a lab-grown body, is she a person? Does she have a soul? And what about down-loaded personalities that no longer have a body – are they still human? Do they have rights?
Pfeffer, Susan Beth. Life As We Knew It (Harcourt, 2006) and The Dead and the Gone (Harcourt, 2008).
Survival after an astronomical event creates severe and worldwide climate havoc. Life will never be the same…
Reeve, Philip. “The Hungry City Chronicles” (Eos)
All four of these books, about a future when huge cities have become mobile and go zooming around on enormous treads finding and “eating” other cities (a process called “municipal Darwinism”), are complex and engrossing – a terrific example of the Steampunk genre at its finest.
Rex, Adam. The True Meaning of Smekday. (Hyperion, 2007).
By far the lightest title on my list, the humor and whimsy of this tale of an alien invasion (and the subsequent reluctant and problem-fraught friendship between a girl and an alien) make it a favorite of mine.
This is a ridiculously incomplete list, as any SF fan will immediately protest. Consider Scott Westerfeld’s series that begins with Uglies to belong on this list, as well as Kate Thompson’s trilogy that begins with Fourth World and Waugh’s trilogy about aliens on Earth that begins with Space Race.
With SF this chewy, entertaining, and thought-provoking finally hitting the YA shelves, I have high hopes that a new generation of SF fangirls and fanboys is being created and nurtured.
Live Long and Prosper!