Spectacular Speculative Fiction

The Gen-X Files:Sci-Fi & Fantasy for Teens


2007
05.03
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The truth is out there, but not in these books!

I don’t particularly like the science fiction/fantasy genre. I’m sorry, but that elaborate building of nether-worlds and time travel and future shock doesn’t really do it for me. But I can’t say that now and then, I haven’t enjoyed some of the reads that have that sci-fi/fantasy twist, but are still grounded in a little thing we like to call reality. Some people are super serious about science fiction and fantasy books. That’s cool, and I respect all reading tastes, but I’m just not one of them. My picks tend to feature real-life teen situations that are set off by just enough of the fantastic to make the story fun and fictional. But whether you’re a total Trekkie or just surf over the sci-fi titles once in a while, I think you’ll find at least a few books that you can “beam-up” to your bedroom!

Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer


2014
12.13



“Reeve was the most special thing that every happened to me. Now I’m just an apathetic, long-haired girl who doesn’t care about anything but my own grief.” Jam Gallahue loved a boy named Reeve. Now he’s gone and Jam can’t figure out how to live her life without him. So her parents have sent her to the Wooden Barn in Vermont, a boarding school for “emotionally fragile, highly intelligent teenagers,” in hopes that a new environment will shake Jam out of her depression. But Jam isn’t very optimistic. “…supposedly a combination of the Vermont air, maple syrup, no psychiatric medication, and no Internet will cure me. But I’m not curable.” Then Jam attends her first Special Topics in English class, an exclusive elective with only five members taught by the mysterious Mrs. Quenell. She learns they are going to study Sylvia Plath, another long haired girl who suffered from depression and wrote a now classic book about her experience called The Bell Jar. She learns that each student is required to keep a special journal that the must turn in to Mrs. Q by the end of the semester. The last thing Jam wants to do is record her misery. But when she opens the pages and begins to write, she finds the process to be transformative…in more ways than one. She discovers her classmates are having the same experience, that the journals have become portals to another world where they can fix the issue that brought them to the Wooden Barn and in that moment, forget their current problems. But one by one, they each painfully come to understand that it is impossible to live in the past if they ever want to move forward. Jam is the last one to learn this lesson, and when she finally faces her fear and loss, the results are both devastating and enlightening. Critically acclaimed adult author Meg Wolitizer has penned a strong, spare, magically real YA novel about the power words and books can have over despair that will no doubt inspire a wave of new interest in the prose and poetry of Sylvia Plath.

Through the Woods by Emily Carroll


2014
09.28



Three sisters left alone for three days in a wintery cabin, each visited by a mysterious stranger who lures them into the snow. A beautiful young bride who makes a grisly discovery in the walls of her new husband’s grand house. A jealous man who commits murder in the dark of the forest and then is visited by the victim of his crime. These are a few of the deliciously creepy, folklore-gone-wrong stories written and illustrated by the incredibly talented Emily Carroll.  Mostly inked in red, black and a chilly cobalt blue, these graphic vignettes about love, death and revenge ooze with tension until they quietly detonate, usually in a silent moment of terrifying realization or a shocking splatter of crimson blood. Though I have read through the collection over half a dozen times by now, I just can’t stop poring over the gorgeously gory pages in fear and fascination. This assemblage of gothic-themed dread is a boon to my YA horror peeps who are always looking for a good literary scare, and to any nervous reader who’s ever been convinced that they just missed being snatched on the way back to bed by the something that lives under it. Because as the fanged shadow warns Red Riding Hood at the end of her journey through the forest, “You must travel through these woods again & again…and you must be lucky to avoid the wolf every time…but the wolf only needs enough luck to find you ONCE.” Here’s hoping that the wolf never gets lucky and you relish these darkly delightful tales as much as I did. Want a taste of Emily Carroll’s disturbing visions? Read this interactive horror story and try not to shiver uncontrollably at the end.

The Graveyard Book Graphic Novel, Vol. 1 by Neil Gaiman, adapted and illustrated by P. Craig Russell et. al.


2014
09.05



Neil Gaiman‘s Newbery award winning novel about a boy being raised by ghosts and a kindly vampire guardian has been transformed into an edgier, sophisticated two-part comic that captivates and surprises on every page. Haven’t read the novel yet? No worries, you can easily pick up the full story from Russell’s lavish adaptation (He’s the same artist who created the Coraline GN). This time Russell invited a small army of talented illustrators to join him, and the results are phenomenal. I especially loved Tony Harris and Scott Hampton‘s version of The Hounds of God, which was my very favorite chapter from the novel and stars the stalwart, secret canine Miss Lupescu. The full color spreads bring the busy graveyard and surrounding community to glorious, riotous life and quickly help readers differentiate the living from the dead. The beautifully wrought Danse Macabre chapter that finishes off the first volume is not one you will forget anytime soon. Don’t wait too long to dig it up at a library or bookstore near you.

Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld


2014
08.25



In Scott Westerfeld’s marvelously meta two-books-in-one, you get to have your cake and eat it, too. First readers are introduced to Darcy Patel, the eighteen year old wunderkind who pens a fantasy novel during NaNoWriMo and quickly gets signed to an agent and hired by a publisher to write (what else?) a trilogy featuring a teenage girl who can see ghosts. Next, we meet Lizzie, the ghost whisperer of Darcy’s novel, or more specifically, a psychopomp. After faking her own death during a terrorist attack, Lizzie can now enter the afterworld and talk to dead people. She promptly falls for Yama, the sexy god of death, and attempts to avenge the murder of her mother’s long dead best friend, a little girl ghost named Mindy. Back in the real world, Darcy has moved to New York City, landed a Chinatown apartment and a new writer-girlfriend named Imogen and is working hard on her revisions of Lizzie’s story. As she continues to craft her novel, Darcy finds herself fighting  against the demons that are familiar to all writers: doubt, failure, insecurity. She worries about her shrinking book advance, whether or not she’s inappropriately stolen from Hindu culture and the fact that her publisher wants her to change her unhappy ending. How will Darcy end Lizzie’s story? In the best way possible for a sequel, of course! I can’t express how captivating it is to both read a story and also the story of the story behind the story at the same time! The parallels between Darcy and Lizzie’s worlds are fun to find and follow, and careful readers will also recognize some of their favorite real life YA authors personalities in some of Darcy’s new writer friends. This ambitious, high-wire act of a novel manages to be both an insightful and fascinating look into the working world of YA authors and a sly send-up of the field’s most beloved genre, paranormal romance. References to YA Heaven, the Printz Award and fantasy trilogies will read like delicious inside jokes and delight YA aficionados to no end. If you are dedicated YA reader, writer or lover of otherworldly romance with a healthy sense of humor, I can’t recommend this tome highly enough. Coming to a library, bookstore or e-reader near you September 2014.

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker


2014
07.25



It is 1899 in New York City, a thriving metropolis teeming with the hopes and dreams of thousands of newly arrived immigrants. Among them is Chava, a chaste Jewish widow who keeps to herself and works tirelessly in a lower East Side bakery, and Ahmad, an aloof Syrian tinsmith who wears an iron band on his wrist and makes beautiful figurines out of precious metal. Each of them is hiding a terrible secret that if discovered, could lead to their destruction. Chava can plunge pins into her own skin and not feel pain while Ahmad can raise them temperature of an entire room by just entering it. Because beneath their ordinary exteriors, Chava is a golem formed from clay, while Ahmad is a jinni made of fire. Neither of them requires sleep, so they each roam the young city’s streets alone at night, Chava yearning to fit in with her human peers, Ahmad longing to escape from them. When they finally meet, they recognize the strangeness in each other and form a mystical bond that is tested when a mysterious figure from Ahmad’s ancient past appears with a plan to enslave them both forever. This impeccably researched, lushly written novel of identity, faith, free will and unlikely friendship will appeal to readers of all ages and any card-carrying member of the history or folklore fandom. It’s also a stunningly good New York story. I spent a very happy week immersed in the smoky, sooty atmosphere of the turn of the century Bowery and Lower East Side learning how to braid challah bread in a Jewish bakery and mend kettles in a Syrian tin shop. If you are seeking a book that will transport you far from the stinky bunks of your summer camp or overly-air conditioned office of your summer job, LOOK NO FURTHER. Summer reading satisfaction guaranteed!

Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A.S. King


2014
07.15



The troubling visions started when Ellie mixed the ashes of a long dead bat with some beer and convinced Glory to drink it. Suddenly both girls are seeing into the pasts and futures of every stranger they pass on the street, but it is only Glory who is getting terrifying glimpses of a second Civil War where women’s rights disappear completely and the entire United States is thrown into poverty and chaos. It doesn’t help that the visions start coming right on the heels of Glory’s high school graduation, serving as a further reminder that she has no freaking idea what to do with her life. Her best friend Ellie, a modern day hippie who lives on the commune next door, is too busy chasing boys and dealing with the unwelcome surprise of an STD to have an opinion, while Glory’s father, a virtual shut-in since Glory’s mother Darla committed suicide years ago, can’t move forward in his own life, let alone help Glory with hers. So Glory retreats to her dead mother’s photo developing darkroom, where she finds a hidden portfolio of pictures and starts to piece together the puzzle of her family’s past in order to make some sense of the dead bat visions and her own uncertain future. This is not a read-all-in-one-sitting story with a page-turning plot, but rather a novel of ideas that deserves patience and contemplation as readers ponder their own personal and intellectual journeys as they travel along with Glory on hers. In other words, it’s a novel that could only be conceived and written by the whip-smart A.S. King. Coming to a library, bookstore or e-reader near you October 2014. While you wait, check out the rest of King’s semi-surreal backlist, along with the one of the most bonkers, bizarre road trip books ever, Going Bovine by Libba Bray.

Noggin by John Corey Whaley


2014
03.25



High school freshman Travis Ray Coates is dying from incurable cancer when doctors tell his family there’s one last chance for survival—as long as Travis doesn’t mind having his neck separated from his torso. It seems there’s a new cryogenic technology that will allow Travis’s head to be detached and frozen until doctors can find him a donor body to link it to. There’s only one little glitch—the technology isn’t quite there yet. So Travis goes to sleep before the operation to remove his noggin, not knowing when or even if he will ever wake up. When he does comes to, five years have passed and he has a new body that is in way better shape than his old one. Being alive is obviously better than being dead, but Travis quickly discovers that starting life over is much more complicated than he ever imagined. First of all, he is still technically sixteen and has to finish high school while everyone else he knows has moved on to work or college. Next, his girlfriend and love of his life Cate Conroy now has a fiancée. A fiancée! And if all that wasn’t enough, there’s also the little matter of skinny jeans.

“’These are pretty tight,’ I said, walking out to model a pair of jeans for my mom.
‘It’s the style.’
‘I don’t understand. I can hardly move…are these girl jeans?’
‘No, Travis. I told you. It’s what everyone wears now. Boys and girls.’”

Suddenly, being back isn’t all that great. “I thought if I woke up at all, it would be in a hundred years to a brand-new world full of new people. But instead there I was stuck in this mutated version of my old life where everyone had grown-up just enough to forget about me…I came back from the dead for this? Joke’s on me.” This fresh, funny novel about losing your life in order to find your place is hands down the most original story I’ve read in ages. Travis’ voice is sweet and folky, full of a bewilderment that anyone who’s ever found themselves in a fish-out-of-water situation can relate to. I was an unabashed fan of Corey Whaley’s debut novel, and I’m happy to say that his sophomore effort more than meets my sky-high expectations. There’s something just a little bit genius about using a decapitated head as a symbol for teenage identity formation, and I urge you to sample the genius for yourselves. Heads will roll in a library, bookstore or e-reader near you April 2014.

The Monstrumologist: The Final Descent by Rick Yancey


2013
09.05



This last volume of the splendidly gruesome Monstrumologist series depicts sixteen-year-old Will Henry rebelling against the authoritarian rule of his mentor and sometimes nemesis Dr. Pellinor Warthrop more than ever before. Through the last three books, Will has continued to spiral down, down, down into a personal darkness from which he believes there is no salvation. Now a stone cold teenager, Will Henry has to fight to feel anything at all, except when it comes to his childhood sweetheart Lilly Bates. When they meet again as teens, he is instantly smitten, and not pleased to be distracted from his courting by Dr. Warthrop’s new obsession with yet another believed-to-be-extinct monster. But Will can never forget the secret that has dwelled in his blood since the beginning, which casts a shadow on his current bond with Lilly. Soon he is embroiled in a convoluted scheme that ends up turning all his relationships to ash, including the one that has defined him his entire life: his complicated connection to Warthrop. After breaking apart in the most spectacular manner, Will and Warthrop meet one last time, each uncertain about his life and legacy and if the world is big enough to contain them both. This concluding title of the Monstrumologist epic is disappointingly thinner than it’s predecessors in plot and page numbers. The beginning is a bit confusing, as it shifts forward and back in time from the events that lead to Will and Warthrop’s break to their final meeting. In addition, Warthrop’s attempts to secure his latest biologically aberrant prize initially devolves into a shaggy dog mystery that is sometimes difficult to follow. However, once yet another beloved character is killed off, the plot becomes clearer and Yancey pulls off a neat slight of hand identity trick near the end that left me both impressed and very, very relieved. And while the ending feels a little too neat, it also feels absolutely true. I am deeply sorry to see Will Henry and Dr. Warthrop go, as this is without a doubt one of my favorite book series of all time. To follow their horrific adventures from the beginning, start here, go there and there and end here when The Final Descent comes to a library, bookstore or e-reader near you.

Doll Bones by Holly Black


2013
07.15



Do you remember the first time you realized you were no longer a kid? Maybe it was when your best friend started “going out” with someone and never had time for you anymore.  Maybe it was at your middle school “moving up” ceremony when your principal shook your hand instead of hugging you and your parents asked if you would rather get a job instead of going to camp this summer. It’s tricky, that moment. One foot is still on the playground, while the other hovers uncertainly over adulthood. For twelve year old Zach, that moment comes when his father decides the time has come for Zach to retire his “action figures” and throws them away while Zach is at school. Devastated but determined not to show it, Zach tells his two best friends Poppy and Alice that he simply doesn’t have time anymore for the elaborate fantasy game they’ve played for years using dolls and their imaginations. But Poppy can’t let go. She insists that the creepy doll locked in her mom’s china cabinet that has loomed large in their imaginations as the evil Queen of their fantasy land is possessed by the ghost of a girl who needs them to return her to her grave site. Zach and Alice are skeptical until Poppy tells them, “Did you know that bone china has real bones in it?…She’s made from human bones. Little-girl bones.” And the doll does seem to have sack of what looks like ashes inside her. So the three friends go on a quest to return the Queen to her grave, encountering spooky circumstances that may or may not be the result of the dead girl’s ghost. Is there really a ghost, or is this just Poppy’s attempt to keep them believing in magic just a little longer? And what are these new feelings brewing between Alice and Zach? Secrets are revealed between the three that begin to tip the balance from believing that everything is possible to understanding that life isn’t always fair. “I hate that everyone calls it growing up but it feels like dying.” says Poppy passionately, sounding exactly like you, me and any other person who’s been twelve, thirteen, thirty, sixty five or eighty. The feeling that sometimes growing up sucks is universal, and it doesn’t necessarily get any easier as you start hitting the numbers that stop ending in “teen.” Holly Black so gets that in this beautifully melancholy book about endings and beginnings that will speak to readers of all ages. Without a doubt, one of the best books of the year.

Contact

Jen Hubert Swan
Librarian, Book Reviewer,
Reading Addict
swampophelia27@yahoo.com