#QP2018 Nominees: Science Fiction

Science fiction is the perfect place to find imaginative and inventive hooks. In this post, we feature four science fiction stories with fabulous hooks.

Exo by Fonda Lee is a story of life on an alien occupied earth, and ponders the question of whether it is better to cooperate or rebel.

Nemesis by Brendan Reichs features a terrifying premise where two protagonists are killed every two years, only to be resurrected the next day with no memory of their demise.

Scythe by Neal Shusterman imagines a future where technology has advanced to the point that nobody dies anymore. The creation of Scythes, humans whose role is to kill other humans, is the only way to ensure the world isn’t overpopulated.

What Goes Up by Katie Kennedy balances a science fiction premise, protecting the Earth from a possible alien invasion, with a healthy injection of humor.

Landscape With Invisible Hand by M.T. Anderson delivers a science fiction tale chock-full of fascinating ideas in a short, digestible package that will appeal to reluctant readers.

These five books feature captivating hooks, engaging writing, and well drawn characters that will tempt many reluctant readers.

Exo by Fonda Lee
Scholastic Press
January 31, 2017

What if the earth were a colony, a useful military outpost? What if humans were the “indigenous” species–their intelligence the only quality that kept them from being completely overrun by a superior alien race that benevolently talked down to them?

Welcome to the new earth. Under the new political order, the alien race of zhree have created a feudal-like system in which they incorporate humans into their protective clans. Donovan Reyes,  son of the new Prime Liaison between the humans and the zhree, is a valuable political pawn. His father selected him to undergo the “hardening” process, a process that provides him with an exoskeleton similar to that of the zhree race.  The exoskeleton is critical in his role as a peace keeper between humans and zhree, but it can’t protect him when he is kidnapped by the terrorist organization, Sapience. The hits just keep on coming when he realizes that the terrorist are being led by someone who causes him to question everything his father and the zhree have created.

From the first page, Lee solidly constructs an action-packed future that confronts readers with heavy sociological issues. She ratchets up the angst as Donovan tries to balance love, family, and the pragmatic issues of political survival in a plot written so well that readers will be able to visualize the explosions, feel the heartbreaks, and smell the fear. Fans of Pittacus Lore’s Lorien Legacies, the Scan series by Walter Jury and Sarah Fine, and Brandon Sanderson’s The Reckoner series will embrace Exo.

— Jodi Kruse

Nemesis by Brendan ReichsNemesis by Brendan Reichs
P. Putnam’s Sons
March 21, 2017

It doesn’t matter where you are or how far you run.  The man in the black suit will find you, and then he will kill you.  Min and Noah have learned that every two years on their birthday, they will be stalked and killed by the man in the black suit only to be resurrected the next day with no memory of the event and no rationale for why they are being hunted.

The small-town resort setting of Fire Lake, Idaho with cataclysmic world-ending natural disasters fuel this fast-paced, if lengthy, thriller. Min and Noah are from two very different socio-economic experiences, which presents an added dynamic to their shared attempts to survive their demise on (wait for it) their shared birthdates.

The initial length of the book is a little intimidating, but Reichs successfully keeps the tension moving–enough that one of my reluctant readers who begged me to check it out to her–brought it back within two days declaring she couldn’t put it down.  The jacket cover is enough to get more than a passing glance, and the unique and gory premise, coupled with a twist at the end will be sufficient to keep going until the last horrible secret is revealed.

— Jodi Kruse

Scythe by Neal ShustermanScythe by Neal Shusterman
Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers/Simon and Schuster
November 22, 2106

Unwind is one of those books that I regularly hand to reluctant young adult readers, and they rarely hand it back. The typical response is for them to promptly devour all of the books that follow and then ask for more. That’s why Scythe is such a delight.  Once again, Shusterman delves into the creation of a world in which one critical variable has changed.  In this new world, death has been conquered.  Since people no longer die of natural causes, a special group of death dealers called scythes have been developed, along with a well codified group of cultural and procedural norms.  

Becoming a scythe’s apprentice is not a real cause for celebration, since it involves giving up many of the family relationships and aspirations that are so much a part of humanity. That is why neither Citra nor Rowan are enthused about their selection by Scythe Faraday. In exchange for their sacrifices, scythes are given unlimited power with little to keep them in check. It is in this environment that one band of scythes starts to go renegade.

When Scythe Faraday disappears, Rowan and Citra are  apprenticed to two very different mentors. Citra is adopted by the grande dame, Scythe Curie.  Rowan is apprenticed to Scythe Goddard–the leader of a small band of scythes that revels in their celebrity and keeps one toe just this side of tradition.

The added twist: to ensure that the two are not encumbered by love, at the end of their apprenticeship they must duel to the death. Part mystery, part survival, part romance, this science fiction title poses tough ethical questions via a highly palatable unconventional plot.  Written at a level that is accessible for many struggling readers, the grisly premise (tastefully executed) combined with a cast of complex characters is bound to be a hit.

— Jodi Kruse

What Goes Up by Katie KennedyWhat Goes Up by Katie Kennedy
July 18, 2017

The threat of imminent alien invasion has never been so entertaining. NASA’s Interworlds Agency is seeking two brilliant teenagers to form a new team to assist the Agency in their mission to represent and protect Earth in the event that intelligent life forms are discovered on other planets. Rosa Hayashi and Eddie Toivonen are two of the best and the brightest from opposite sides of the tracks who must demonstrate their “interstellar ability” to compete for the coveted two spots. Their outside-the-box thinking lands them at the top of the pack, but Eddie’s unusual test results prompt the Agency to choose a second pair as their understudy while they train for their roles.

Before they can consider the problem of extraterrestrials invading Earth, Rosa and Eddie must first deal with fierce competition and micro-aggressions from their peers – Rosa because she is a girl rising above her male peers in science, and Eddie because he is poor and alone in the world. Despite their differences, they quickly learn to work together and build a comfortable, banter-filled rapport, a real highlight of this smart, funny novel. When the aliens finally do make their appearance, Rosa, Eddie, and their cohort band together to bring the fight to them where they least expect it – on the aliens’ own planet, which bears a striking resemblance to their own. It is at this point that things take a truly zany turn, delighting readers with unexpected twists and laugh-out-loud dialogue.  

What Goes Up is a non-stop entertaining romp for readers who like their science fiction served with a good dose of humor. Rosa and Eddie are rounded out by an equally likeable supporting cast of characters whose camaraderie will instantly win readers over. Funny, intelligent, and fast-paced, this book provides readers with plenty to think about while they enjoy the ride; an ideal read for those who are looking for an adventure on the lighter side of science fiction.

— Jenny Zbrizher

Landscape with Invisible HandLandscape with Invisible Hand by M.T. Anderson
Candlewick Press
September 12, 2017

Anderson delivers a science fiction tale chock-full of fascinating ideas in a short, digestible package that will appeal to reluctant readers.

In a future where aliens called vuvv have colonized Earth with humans’ blessing, teenager Adam and his family must do whatever it takes to eke out a meager living in economically depressed times. With vuvv technology having replaced most human jobs, Adam and his girlfriend Chloe get creative  in order to bring money in to support their unemployed families: they sign on  to broadcast their relationship via pay-per-minute recordings for vuvv entertainment, taking extra care to ham up the 1950’s-style dating rituals that the vuvv can’t get enough of.

It doesn’t take long, however, before Adam and Chloe can’t stand each other’s guts any longer (not least of the reasons why is because Adam suffers from an unfortunate gastrointestinal disease, which has a tendency to manifest itself at the most inopportune times). When the vuvv start to catch on that there is trouble in paradise, their threats and ultimatums, combined with Chloe’s rejection, put Adam in a hopeless position. Desperately searching for alternatives to solve his family’s money problems and find a cure for his rapidly deteriorating health, Adam takes a last-chance gamble on his skills as an artist in an effort to get on the vuvv’s good side. Will his best be enough to survive in a planet dominated by vuvv?

Told as a series of brief vignettes, this is a short novel that packs a fierce punch. The dark humor of Anderson’s biting satire will amuse readers, and the social commentary between the lines will prompt them to think. This futuristic tale will engage readers interested in grappling with the ideas inherent in science fiction without having to slog through dense world-building or learning new vocabularies. Short, sardonic, and thought-provoking, Landscape with Invisible Hand is Ray Bradbury for a new generation.

— Jenny Zbrizher

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Quick Picks

Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers Blogging Team @ YALSA's The Hub.