Spectacular Speculative Fiction

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

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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!

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson


In this raucous medieval-ish fantasy turned upside down and sideways, Nimona is a sassy shape shifter who offers her slick sidekick services to professional villain Ballister Blackheart. In turn, she wants nothing more than to take out a few good guys. But that’s not the kind of villain Blackheart is. In fact, he’s kind of…kind, more like a Robin Hood than Sheriff of Nottingham. So when Nimona’s unstoppable powers attract the attention of the deadly Director of the mysterious Institute, Blackheart does his best to keep things from getting too heated between Nimona and the Institute’s champion, Ambrosius Goldenloin. But for sad and terrible reasons of her own, Nimona is out for blood, and soon Blackheart finds himself trapped between his arch enemy and his closest ally, no longer able to tell which is which. This inventive graphic novel was originally a web comic that earned oodles of raves, all heartily well deserved. Stevenson’s small scale art and text is packed with big universal truths about corruption, morality and heroism while also delivering some hardcore giggles along the way. You’ll find yourself wanting a Nimona of your own after finishing this delightfully subversive tome.

Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray


SPOILER ALERT: Before launching into this luscious sequel of epic proportions, please do yourself a BIG favor and read the utterly delicious first book in this planned four volume series. And if you’re already a fan of the fabulous paranormal Roaring Twenties tome, then by all means, READ ON! Picking up right where The Diviners left off, Evie is now enjoying superstardom as the “Sweetheart Seer” of WGI radio, streetwise Sam is working alongside steadfast Jericho and Evie’s Uncle Will at the Museum of the American Folklore, Superstition and the Occult, BFF entertainers Theta and Henry are playing the nights away at the Ziegfeld Follies and secret poet Memphis runs numbers during the day while working on love poetry for Theta after hours. Though they seem happy and busy on the surface, each continues to come to uncomfortable terms with the hidden abilities they have discovered within themselves. While exercising his dream walking talent to try and connect with his lost love Louis, Henry runs into Ling Chan, a Chinese/Irish teen who uses dreams to confer with the dead. Together they discover a seductive netherworld where a vengeful ghost is tapping into the dreams of innocent New Yorkers, causing them to fall into a deadly sleep from which they never wake. The ghost’s presence is tied to an old, bricked over subway station that was recently excavated. Once her bones are stirred, the veiled woman covered in blood and her army of soul sucking phosphorescent zombies haunt the train tunnels and only Ling and Henry have the clues to solve the mystery of her death and lay her spirit to rest. Meanwhile, on the romantic front, Sam and Evie embark on a news worthy romance that may or may not be the real deal, Theta and Memphis encounter the difficulties of interracial dating in the era of KKK parades and the Eugenics movement, while Jericho struggles with who to give his heart to PERIOD. As the story climbs inexorably to a tension-filled conclusion, the rag tag band of friends begin to realize that a greater evil than the previous Pentacle Killer and present Hungry Ghost is afoot and that they will need to reveal their clandestine supernatural skills to each other if they ever hope to win against it.

SO. MUCH. HERE. TO. LOVE, so I will spare you too many gushy particulars and just say that as a librarian I was delighted that Ling did research on the abandoned subway station at the Seward Park library with the help of fictional librarian Mrs. Belpre, and as a New Yorker I appreciated what seemed like a heartbreaking reference to 9/11 when the 1920’s train entrances were papered with handmade signs of people who have gone missing since the subway ghost started haunting. Finally, I laughed aloud with nerdy glee when the historically real Carl Jung made an appearance to talk dreams with Evie and Theta. Author Libba Bray’s ability to infuse a paranormal thriller with such nuanced and layered themes of bias, identity, and culture and how they are all integrated messily into the fabric of our collected American history is completely amazeballs. This rich, detail-packed second book does not disappoint with its deepening of the characters and relationships we came to know and love from the first book, and tantalizing hints of the horror to come, including additional references to the mysterious Project Buffalo and the enigmatic crow-coated man in the stovepipe hat. While it was definitely worth the wait, it’s going to be hard drumming our nail bitten fingers as we anxiously anticipate the next chapters in the newly formed Diviner crew’s supernatural adventures. Coming to a library, bookstore, e-reader or pillow near you August 25 2015.

Sweet by Emmy Laybourne


Laurel should be grateful that her best friend Viv’s wealthy dad footed the bill for the two of them to join the SOLU luxury cruise. After all, the producers of the brand new sweetener promise that anyone who sprinkles it on their cereal will drop 5% of their body weight in the first week, and even though Laurel has come to terms with her size 14 jeans, Viv is convinced that they both need to lose at least a dress size. So Laurel agrees to go, even though she secretly thinks that she and Viv look just fine the way they are. Soon they are partying with the likes of Tom Fiorelli, a hot teen celebrity spokesperson who wants to become the next Ryan Seacrest, and downing SOLU like water at every meal. Well, at least Viv is. Laurel is too seasick to eat anything for the first few days and by then, it’s clear that SOLU works, maybe a little too well. Laurel notices that within hours,  all newly thin Viv wants to eat is SOLU. In fact, the fake sweetener is so addictive that soon everyone that has been eating it craves more. And when there isn’t any more, they begin to turn on each other in order to get their fix–in blood. The only ones who remain sane are those who never developed the craving, including Laurel, Tom and a few smart crew members. Now it’s up to them to ditch the cruise and warn the world that the greatest weight loss drug ever created has fatal side effects. There’s only one problem: the passengers are hungry. And the chance that Laurel and Tom will escape the ship with their lives is slim to none. But they have to try, because when it comes to SOLU, slim is better than DEAD! This highly entertaining dietary horror story manages to be compulsively readable while also imparting serious messages about identity, body image and the drug industry. If you like humor/horror mashups like Scream or Shaun of the Dead, then you will devour SWEET. Skip the latest dystopian blah blah, THIS should be the first book to grace your beach bag this summer. Get ready to become addicted when SWEET comes to a library, bookstore or e-reader near you June 2015.

The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black


“Food tasted better in Fairfold, people said, infused as it was with enchantment. Dreams were more vivid. Artists were more inspired and their work more beautiful. People fell more deeply in love, music was more pleasing to the ear, and ideas came more frequently than other places.” For the people of Fairfold, living alongside fairies is normal, and the many blessings they receive as a result helps soften the blow when an occasional foolish tourist disappears or turns up dead. Fairfold is where Hazel and her brother Ben have grown up, with artist parents, friends who are half fey, and the eerie presence of a horned prince who slumbers eternally in a glass coffin in the woods behind their house. Along with the rest of the Fairfold locals, they think they know how to navigate the strange waters of their town, know the right charms to mutter and the wrong places to stay away from. But then someone or something smashes the unbreakable glass coffin, and everything changes. The horned prince has awakened. Sorrow is suddenly stalking the homes and schools of Fairfold. No one trusts anyone anymore, especially those who have ties to the Folk who live under the hill. And guilty Hazel knows that it’s all her fault for striking that bargain with the fey so long ago. Now she’s going to have to try and make it right the only way she can–with a magic sword and just a little help from a new friend with a hard head and a soft heart. This captivating offering from renowned fantasy author Holly Black charms and beguiles at every turn of the page. Black drops clues like breadcrumbs that lead to a “holy crap!” twist about halfway through, revealing whole new layers to Hazel’s initial quest. Black also plays havoc with gender stereotypes, giving us new and  improved versions of knights, monsters and damsels in distress while still paying homage to the myths and legends of old. Boys fall in love with boys, girls fall in love with swords and heroes emerge from unexpected places. Prepare to be completely, utterly, thoroughly enthralled.

The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick


After fleeing a murderous sneak attack from a rival tribe, a prehistoric girl stumbles upon a spiral marked on the wall of a forgotten cave. A grieving psychiatrist is deeply moved by a mentally ill poet who fears nothing except the tall spiral staircase that rises in the middle of the sanatorium. After being accused of witchcraft, a medieval cunning woman is thrown into a river where she glimpses a spiral carved into the rocky underwater bank. A lonely astronaut alters his course when his ship discovers signs of intelligent life in the form of a broadcast signal of the number phi, which is also the ratio of the Fibonacci Spiral. Each lyrically wrought quarter of this multi-layered novel, which author Marcus Sedgwick claims can be read in any order, revolves around this mysterious shape that appears over and over in human history, folklore and nature. Figuring out how each story relates to the others is a puzzling treat and I can’t imagine any reader not giving a gasp of delight and satisfaction when reading the very last paragraphs, which cunningly come around full spiral. As cleverly constructed and delightfully complex as Sedgewick’s award-winning Midwinter Blood, I predict Ghosts of Heaven will score just as much critical love in 2015!

Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer


“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


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.


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


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.


Jen Hubert Swan
Librarian, Book Reviewer,
Reading Addict