Although it's certainly not the only YA space opera in existence, I credit Beth Revis' Across the Universe trilogy—comprised of Across the Universe, A Million Suns, and Shades of Earth—with bringing the subgenre to a more broadly mainstream readership... WITHOUT sacrificing the science fiction elements or simply setting a popular storyline in outer space.
In other words, this is not Twilight or The Hunger Games or Harry Potter in space. Each installment of Across the Universe is something different—the first book is a murder mystery, the second a political thriller, the third a frontier adventure—but they're all tied together by the overarching story, by ongoing themes of growth and independence and choice and sacrifice and leadership and love, and by the coming-of-age of the main characters.
The trilogy is exciting and romantic and epic and surprising and original; it stars a refreshingly difficult heroine and showcases OUTSTANDING character development; each book is very much one part of a larger whole, but still works as a satisfying story unto itself; as the best science fiction stories do, it explores current-day issues in a futuristic setting WITHOUT being overly obvious or preachy; it's atmospheric and claustrophobic, it contrasts the wondrous vastness of space with the frustration of being stuck—maybe forever—on a ship that may never reach its destination; it's realistic in that the characters face difficult, complicated situations to which there are no easy answers...
I could go on, but that's enough from me, take it away, Beth!
When I finished the first draft of Across the Universe, one of the first things I did was go to my small local indie bookstore and ask for all the YA science fiction they had. I wanted to know the market inside and out. And what I found was…no market. My bookstore had three SF novels on the YA shelf: Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games, Stephanie Meyer's The Host, and Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game. And while I’d read all three, what I wanted was more: more variety, more diversity, more space, just more.
Fortunately, in the past few years, there’s been a boom in YA SF. There is a lot more available—and more coming. I actually had a really hard time narrowing down this list to just ten titles! In the end, I decided to restrict myself to works that were published between 2011 and the end of this year. Although two of my selections are dystopians, I tried to err on the side of sci fi. So, without further ado, here’s some of my personal favorite modern YA SF—in no specific order, as I love them all equally.
Origin, by Jessica Khoury
Pia is a child of science—literally. Born in a science commune hidden in the jungle, she has been raised to be the perfect scientist. As she learns more about who—and what—she is, she must decide whether it is worth it to choose her own destiny, or take the one carefully planned for her. This novel has some of my favorite elements of sci fi: a healthy mix of philosophy, action, and possibilities.
Memento Nora, by Angie Smibert
Of all the novels on this list, Memento Nora scares me the most, because it is eerily close to being true already. Nora lives in a world where people have given up their freedoms due to fear of terrorist attacks—and many choose to give up their memories, too. When she decides to hold on to her memories—despite the bad ones—she realizes just what true terrorism is.
Hourglass, by Myra McEntire
I love a time travel novel. The first of a trilogy, Hourglass tells the story of Emerson, a true Southern girl who sees ghosts. Except they’re not ghosts. They’re echoes of the past—a past that Em can travel to. With hot boys, a healthy dose of snark, and an appropriately twisty plot, this book is such a fun read.
Cinder, by Marissa Meyer
Cinder is so high-concept that you can tell what the book is by looking at the cover—it’s a sci fi retelling of Cinderella with a cyborg instead of a princess. Brilliant, am I right? Cinder has cyborg-feet, a Prince, an evil queen that lives on the moon, and such an entertaining voice that I couldn’t put the book down. The sequel, Scarlet, tells the story of Little Red Riding Hood with a Wolf who’s a spaceship captain, and I am chomping at the bit for the next title coming, Cress, which features my favorite fairy tale, Rapunzel.
For Darkness Shows the Stars, by Diana Peterfreund
Beautifully told, this novel is a retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion in a far-future New Zealand. This isn’t a novel about an apocalypse—it’s about what happens after, to the ones who live far past a world event that rocks the whole world. But it’s also a love story, a commentary on technology, a story of class and prejudice, and so much more.
Tempest, by Julie Cross
Did I mention that I love time travel novels? I so do. Pick this one up for the hero, Jackson. He starts off as a jerk with a special talent for falling back in time, but when something truly traumatic happens, he finds himself stuck in the past—and given a chance to save the life of the girlfriend whose death he’s partially responsible for. Jackson’s older than most YA characters, and definitely a boy—but all the more realistic because of it.
Control, by Lydia Kang
Coming December 2013
Lydia Kang is a genius. No, I’m not exaggerating. She’s a doctor. She knows science inside and out. And it shows in this smart novel of a future where genetics have gone awry. Ostensibly, this novel tells about a group of teens on the run; their genetic mutations and anomalies have made them very special to the wrong people. But more than that, this is a book about loving someone not despite their differences, but because of them. And I’m not talking about just romantic love (although there is that), but also familial love, friendship, and more.
Tandem, by Anna Jarzab
Coming October 2013
This is a book about parallel worlds. In the multiverse, there are many different copies of people in different worlds. In her world—this world—Sasha is an ordinary girl. But in another world, she’s a princess. Dragged across the multiverse, she must learn what happened to the original princess, how to save the people she’s come to care about, and, maybe, how to get home.
Perfect Ruin, by Lauren DeStefano
Coming October 2013
A mix between science, alt-history, fantasy, and something unique all its own, Perfect Ruin is the perfect follow up to the Chemical Garden trilogy. Fans of Avatar: The Last Airbender will love the unique wordplay of the new world Lauren’s created, and those sick of dystopians will love the utopian portrayal of Internment at the start of the novel. The best part? Internment is truly a unique setting for a cast of amazingly unique characters. You will love them all.
These Broken Stars, by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner
Coming December 2013
I was so lucky to get an early copy of this book! This is exactly the sort of sci fi I wished I’d had growing up. It starts off in what is essentially a Titanic of the stars, a luxury spaceship that provides a contrast between the two main characters—a girl born to opulence and a poor boy who’s risen the ranks of the military. When the ship crashes—and they’re the only survivors—they must find a way home on an inhospitable alien planet. You will absolutely, positively not be able to guess the end of this explosive book.
Love Minus Eighty, by Will McIntosh
This one’s not YA, but it reads like one (in that it’s not hard SF, has a quick pace, is more focused on characters than most adult SF, etc.). It’s an absolutely fascinating look at a possible future where, if you’re hot and young enough when you die, you can be frozen, revived only if you’re willing to be a contracting bride for the very rich. There’s some adult language in this one, and some racy ideas, but nothing too inappropriate on-screen, so mature readers will definitely be able to get a lot out of this adult title, and I highly recommend it. It’s a modern Philip K. Dick / Twilight Zone hybrid.
Previously:Lauren Roedy Vaughn's Five Favorite Literary Adult Mentors... Plus Two Characters Who Need One.