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!

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.

Proxy by Alex London


2013
06.05



In the future, the superrich are able to buy their way out of punishment by sponsoring a “proxy,” a impoverished individual who, in exchange for education and basic medical care, agrees to face the consequences of his or her rich patron’s actions. If your patron is a law-abiding citizen, your punishments are few and far between. Unfortunately for Syd, his bad boy patron Knox is always in trouble. Syd has been tasered, beat, worked nearly to death and placed in solitary confinement more times than he can count. But now Knox has committed the ultimate crime. While joyriding in his father’s fancy car, Knox got in an accident and his passenger, a girl named Marie, died. And Syd will have to pay the price: seventeen years in a forced labor camp that few have ever left other than in a body bag. But Syd is a wily “swamprat,” a scavenger child who grew up in the dumps of the Valve. He’s not taking Knox’s knocks this time. Instead, he plans to escape the system or die trying—even if it means taking his patron down with him. But what Syd doesn’t know is that he carries a secret weapon that could change everything… and he’s just unintentionally passed it to Knox. Whew! I dare you to try and put this novel down before turning the last page (and let me tell you, that LAST page is a doozy!) and I guarantee you will find it darn near impossible. Not only is this sci-fi suspense thriller highly entertaining, it is also chock-full of thought provoking ideas about socio-economic class, race, environmental concerns and morality development. That’s a lot to pack in between car chases, hovercraft explosions, escaped zoo animals and the end of the world as we know it, but somehow London manages it with ease. Want to start your summer off right? Nab this book when it comes to a library, bookstore or e-reader near you, then follow it up with this one.

Midwinter Blood by Marcus Sedgwick


2013
03.05



Blessed Island is a truly stress-free place. There are no cars to pollute the air with smoke and noise, no cell phones to distract people from real connections. It’s so peaceful that reporter Eric Seven just can’t seem to motivate himself to collect the research he needs to write an article about the remote island community and it’s rumored fountain of youth. The villagers are friendly and generous, and there’s always another cup of tea to sip, another delicious meal to eat, another nap to take. Soon he’s been there for several days and it’s getting harder and harder to remember why he came. All he knows is that it had something to do with flowers, and the young woman named Merle. Eric feels certain they’ve met before, although he doesn’t know how since Merle’s never left Blessed Island and he’s never been. Or has he? In seven cleverly intertwined short stories, author Marcus Sedgwick weaves a classic yet wholly original tale of blessings and curses, love and loyalty, bitterness and revenge. Each story is like an interlocking puzzle piece that forms a fascinating picture by the immensely satisfying end.  As a reader, I was completely captivated by the storytelling and as a writer, utterly blown away with the razor sharp execution of plot, clues and character. It’s an absolute stunner of a mystery and romance and I will be madly recommending it to everyone I know.

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey


2013
02.15



Who’s afraid of vampires, werewolves or zombies anymore? These former baddies have totally lost their fear factor by becoming sparkly, hunky and objects of our affection. Luckily for those of us who still like to get our scare on, there’s a new fright in town. And it’s coming from the sky. Famous astrophysicist Stephen Hawking said, “If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans.” Cassie should know. She’s barely survived the first four waves of the alien invasion of Earth. First, the worldwide loss of electricity, then the massive tsunamis, followed by a fatal plague and finally the outright assassinations by roving drones of any humans left alive after all that. She’s lost everyone but her little brother, lost everything but her iron will to live. When men claiming to be American military separate her from her brother Sammy, Cassie decides she will do anything to get him back, even if it means sacrificing the only thing she had left—her life. But her mission is compromised when she joins forces with a mysterious stranger who has a secret agenda that could derail Cassie’s journey before it’s even begun.  And the 5th Wave is silently rolling out, even more deadly than the the first four. This tense, high wire, sci-fi thriller could only come from the terrifying mind of Rick Yancey, author of my deeply beloved Monstrumologist series. While this new series opener is not quite as ooey gooey gory as The Monstrumologist, Yancey doesn’t shy away from the visceral violence of an unfriendly alien invasion and the nearly nonstop action is super intense. I could barely sit still while reading this juggernaut of a book, surely annoying everyone around me with my tapping toes, jiggling feet and chattering teeth. Cinematic, epic and downright addictive, The 5th Wave reminded me of one of my fav Stephen King stories, The Stand. Get ready to be swept away when The 5th Wave crashes into a library, bookstore or e-reader near you!

The Different Girl by Gordon Dahlquist


2012
12.25



Four girls live on a tropical island where they attend school and are cared for by a man and a woman who are not their parents. The man and woman have told them that their parents died in a fiery plane crash and they are orphans. The four girls believe this to be true. The four girls each have a different name and a different hair color, but in thought and word they are almost identical. The four girls are happy, or at least believe they are. And then a fifth girl washes up on their shore. Her ship went down and she was the only survivor. She is different. Her skin is different, her hair is different, her voice is different. She also is different in that she believes nothing the man and woman tell her. She thinks for herself, and her thoughts are identical to no one’s. The four girls are confused. The four girls are intrigued.The four girls start questioning each other. The four girls start to question everything. And then everything changes. This mind-bending science fiction hurt my head in the best possible way. It is a fascinating puzzle of a book where you only know as much as Veronika, the red-headed girl. Her narrative voice is oddly formal and her cadence is strange. You have to read her words more than once and even then they don’t always make sense. But hidden in them are small clues that let you know these four girls are not what they seem. Clues like, “We never used Irene’s clips, because we needed our hair like it was, hanging down and wiped clean to catch the sun.” As I gathered the clues, I began to see that I was on an entirely different island than the one I had started with. And it was AWESOME. I was shocked. I was surprised. I was impressed. I knew immediately I was going to have to go back and read it again. I also knew it was going to be one of the most talked about books of the year. And so will you, when it comes to a library, bookstore or e-reader near you.

 

Contact

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