As a child of the Eighties, and a blossoming prolific reader, sadly I went through what many a science fiction lover had to face: the dreaded direct leap from children’s to adult books. I was a teen before the dramatic growth of young adult literature in general, and before the arrival of a distinct science fiction genre in the young adult age bracket. Not only was my library’s young adult collection a very short span of shelves that were closely guarded by vigilant adult librarians, but what little there was did not include very much in the way of science fiction. While I found–and obsessed over–Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, I never uncovered those other children’s sci-fi classics like William Sleator’s books or Escape to Witch Mountain by Alexander Key (though I did see the movie, later!).
My first distinct memory of reading a chapter book was exploring Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonsong, Dragondrums, and Dragonsinger with my mom. Shortly after, I devoured the few Tamora Pierce and Diana Wynne Jones books I could find. My mom actually went out of her way to buy me more of these books when I couldn’t get them at the library. Those books were my gateway into a fantastical new world. I soon discovered, though, that even as I was ready for more, for a longer, more challenging read, the only direction I could go in led me to books like Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, McCaffrey’s Crystal Singer series, and Asimov’s novels.
While I loved these new books, I was disappointed that there was no in-between. I made a giant leap to a huge new world of fantastical places, intriguing possibilities, and, sometimes, themes I wasn’t ready to completely comprehend. I was a late bloomer, in both friendships and more intimate relationships. There were times that the books I found were a little more graphically intimate than I was prepared for; in fact, the Crystal Singer series, which I adored and reread quite a few times, had several scenes that I can distinctly remember skimming over because I was uncomfortable when I first read them. Books like Catherine Jinks’ Living Hell touch on the longing that teenagers feel, the desire to pursue a relationship, the development of intimacy without getting at all graphic–and without losing the awesome elements that make it science fiction!
It was a great joy to me to realize that books like Living Hell are part of one of the growing trends in YA right this very minute. It is none other than science fiction. Real, true science fiction … and it is being hailed and embraced as such. Yes!
While books like Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game or Philip Reeve’s Mortal Engines have been around for years, it is the brand-new, highly marketed books like Beth Revis’ Across the Universe and Amy Kathleen Ryan’s Glow, that are the new face of science fiction. These books are not only helping to bridge science fiction readers from the children’s departments that they have outgrown into the wider world of reading, but they are also bringing new readers into the genre. These books, highly touted on blogs, buzzed in social media, and book talked by librarians, are making the average teen reader realize that they can also read science fiction.
These new YA sci-fi books involve teen romance, dystopian societies, and biomedical ethics–themes that today’s teens can translate to their everyday lives. They incorporate elements from other popular genres that will help bridge readers into trying science fiction. The newest science fiction titles incorporate the traditional tropes of the genre, but take it beyond to a new level that will appeal to a much broader audience. In the next few years, science fiction may rival vampire literature in needing its own endcap display in bookstores. Soon, could we even dare to think that teen readers in a library may wander into a teen section asking, “Where do you keep the science fiction books?” rather than seeing them pass on through to find the Star Wars books in the adult section?
A Selection of New YA Science Fiction titles:
- A Beautiful Friendship by David Weber
- Across the Universe by Beth Revis
- Black Hole Sun by David Macinnis Gill
- Epic by Conor Kostick
- Glow by Amy Kathleen Ryan
- Gone by Michael Grant
- Hourglass by Myra McEntire
- Inside Out by Maria Snyder
- Living Hell by Catherine Jinks
- Memento Nora by Angie Smibert
- Partials by Dan Wells
- Pathfinder by Orson Scott Card
— Jessica Miller, currently reading The Lost Conspiracy by Frances Hardinge
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