Science fiction has become the go-to genre for YA big screen adaptations, and the trend continues with The 5th Wave (PG-13), a motion picture based on Rick Yancey’s alien-invasion thriller (Putnam, 2013) that opens in theaters on January 22. Earth has been laid to waste by a series of devastating extraterrestrial attacks, and Cassie Sullivan (Chloë Grace Moretz), a desperate girl left on her own, is determined to find her younger brother before the next wave of destruction is unleashed.
Movie fans will rush to libraries in search of the source material along with its sequel, The Infinite Sea (2014). The Last Star, the final book in the trilogy, is scheduled for release in May 2016 (both Putnam). In the meantime, tempt teens with this selection of stellar sci-fi novels that provide high-octane action while probing the human condition.
Earth Is Doomed
Filled with heartbreak, hope, and wisecracking wit, Shaun David Hutchinson’s We Are the Ants (S. & S., Jan. 2016; Gr 9 Up) is a thoughtful and revealing exploration of the meaning of life. “If the world were going to end, but you could stop it, would you?” This is much more than an angsty existential query for 16-year-old outsider Henry Denton. Since age 13, he has been repeatedly abducted by tentacled extraterrestrials, probed and poked, and returned (usually naked) to various locales throughout his Florida city. Now the sluggers (they look like slugs) have offered him the option of preventing Earth’s total annihilation by simply pressing a red button. However, Henry is just not sure the world is worth saving—he’s bullied at school (where he’s called Space Boy), unhappy at home (his chain-smoking mother is miserable, he worries about his nana’s worsening Alzheimer’s, and he doesn’t even want to think about why his father split long ago), and he’s still reeling from the suicide of his boyfriend. Henry’s dilemma is conveyed in a genuine, often wry, first-person narrative that candidly explores his experiences and relationships. All of the characters are complex and interesting, including the popular jock who derides Henry in public but hooks up with him in private, his jerk of an older brother’s impressively wise girlfriend, and the new boy (and possible love interest) at school with a mysterious past and eye-opening viewpoint.
With a comet scheduled to hit on January 29, 2035, the world as we know it is On the Edge of Gone (Abrams, Mar. 2016; Gr 8 Up). Sixteen-year-old Denise, her transgender older sister Iris, and their mother have been assigned to a short-term shelter near their Amsterdam apartment (their black Surinamese father had returned home and won a spot in a permanent shelter there), but impact is imminent and Iris is nowhere to be found. Though running late, Denise and her mother stop to help a person in need and are granted temporary haven aboard the Nassau, a top-secret generation spaceship scheduled to depart after the collision. Destined to colonize far-away planets, the vessel’s limited spots have already been filled with people carefully chosen for their expertise and usefulness. With Earth in ruins around her and the very survival of humanity in question, Denise is determined to earn a place onboard for herself and her family and hope for some kind of a future. However, her autism often makes it difficult to communicate with others, her mother’s drug habit is difficult to keep hidden, and her sister is still missing. In addition to featuring a cast of refreshingly diverse characters, Corinne Duyvis’s gripping adventure incorporates coming-of-age themes of gaining self-knowledge and independence and raises important questions about the complexity of family bonds, human resiliency in the face of tragedy, and how we value life.
And You Thought the Oculus Rift Was Cutting Edge
It’s 2050 in Los Angeles, and almost everyone has a djinni—or smart device—a brain implant that allows access to email, live video feeds, news forums, and more with a blink of the eye. Marisa Carneseca, 17, a talented hacker, spends much of her time online, mostly playing a virtual reality game with her pals across the globe. Though shifts in the economy have left much of the city destitute, Mari’s Mexican-American family lives in El Mirador, a still-bustling mid-sized barrio where business owners like her parents pay a local gang lord for protection. When her wealthy friend Anja tries Bluescreen (HarperCollins, Feb. 2016; Gr 8 Up), plugging the virtual drug directly into her djinni to create a supposedly biologically safe high, something goes horribly wrong. With Anja still in jeopardy and use of the rich-kid drug spreading like wildfire, Mari and her friends are determined to discover the origins of Bluescreen and get it off the streets, but the truth is buried deep and finding it fraught with danger. Mari will have to brave the shadowy secrets of the darknet, powerful machinations of corporate conspiracy, and gun-shooting gang warfare to survive. The first in the “Mirador” series, Dan Wells’s cyber thriller features a crisply constructed high-tech world, a cast of well-developed diverse characters, and a serpentine mystery propelled by rapid-fire action.
Tim Floreen’s Willful Machines (S. & S., 2015; Gr 9 Up) is set in a near-future in which America faces a new threat: seven years ago, a being of artificial intelligence named Charlotte went rogue, uploaded her consciousness to the Supernet before her human-shaped fleshjacket body could be destroyed, and began operations as a virtual terrorist. It should be personal for Lee Fisher, 16, since his scientist mother was killed during the escape and his ultraconservative father is now president of the United States. However, Lee is busy enduring day-to-day life at his uptight boarding school, avoiding his Secret Service babysitters, and keeping his privacy—and “closetedness”—intact (it’s embarrassing enough that a not-so-long-age suicide attempt made national headlines). Then Nico Medina arrives at Inverness Prep, a new boy from Chile who does everything with confidence and easy élan, loves Shakespearean drama, and is downright hot (not just gorgeous, but unusually warm to the touch). Suddenly, Lee, one-time self-proclaimed loser, resolves that it just might be time to start taking some risks. However, the stakes become much higher when he discovers that he is the target of Charlotte’s latest attack, and that Nico might be involved in the plan. Told in a witty, self-deprecating, and endearingly honest first-person narration, this twist-turning novel blends fast-paced action, heartfelt romance, and personal discovery while wrestling with big questions about free will and what it means to be human.
It’s Okay to Be Different
Six California teens, all born in the year 2000, discover that they have unique supernatural powers: otherwise unnoticeable Ethan (aka Scam) possesses an apparently all-knowing and uncontrollable voice that spouts whatever is necessary to get him what he wants (it usually backfires); Riley (Flicker), sister to a powerless twin, is blind, but she can see through the eyes of others; Chizara (Crash) can smash any technology merely by thinking about it (the feeling is dangerously intoxicating); Thibault (Anonymous) is infinitely forgettable (even by his own family); Nate (Bellwether), nicknamed Glorious Leader by Flicker, can control and unite small groups with his charisma; and Kelsie (Mob), latecomer to the group and daughter of a conman, can manipulate the mood of a crowd. Calling themselves the Zeroes (S. & S., 2015; Gr 9 Up), the original five had been meeting regularly—coming up with code names, learning about one another and their abilities, and training as a crime-fighting unit—until Scam’s voice mouthed off and drove them away. Now Scam is in trouble, and the team reluctantly reunites to battle a mob boss, ultimately discovering that despite their squabbles and differences, they are strongest together. Multiple points of view allow each character to develop in a unique way, reflect about whether his or her ability is a boon or a curse, and find a place in the world. Penned by Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan, and Deborah Biancotti, this series opener with a multicultural cast zings with quirky characters, cinematic-style action, and a powerful message about friendship.
Navigating Moral Complexities on the High Seas
Growing up in the Southern Republic of California, 17-year-old Cassandra Leung has been preparing her whole life to become a Reckoner trainer, the individual in charge of instructing and controlling the football field-sized, genetically engineered creatures bred to protect ships from pirates. However, on her very first voyage across the NeoPacific, her assigned beast succumbs to a mysterious illness, the ship falls to marauders, and Cas is captured. The powerful pirate queen Santa Elena has somehow obtained an unborn Reckoner pup and wants it trained. In a world where swelling seas have drowned cities, a Schism resulted in the creation of smaller nations, and pirate colonies thrive, such an act would destroy the carefully established geopolitical balance of power, but Cas has no choice. Treated as a quasi-crewmate, she’s kept under the watchful eye of a girl named Swift, one of the captain’s handpicked protégées. Traveling the seas with these often violent but loyal pirates, many of whom have were born impoverished and disenfranchised on floating cities, Cas begins to doubt everything she’s been taught. And then there are her growing feelings for Swift, which just might go deeper than friendship. A conflicted character drawn with complex motivations and realizations, Cas will keep readers guessing about the course of her fate right up to the book’s satisfying climax. From the nitty-gritty details of Reckoner training to the cleverly envisioned could-be environmental and political scenario and the vividly depicted female leads, Emily Skrutskie’s The Abyss Surrounds Us (Flux, Feb. 2016; Gr 9 Up) is highly original and addictive.
As Todd Strasser’s riveting reimagining of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick begins, Ishmael, 17, has just been transported via stasis pod from a parched and dying Earth to the decks of a fishing vessel on the ocean-covered planet of Cretacea. Hoping to make enough money aboard the Pequod to help his foster family escape their home planet, Ishmael is eager to harpoon as many ocean beasts as possible—the resources will be sent back to Earth for payment—but the ship’s captain is fixated on tracking down one particular giant-size monster, known as the Great Terrafin, an obsession that just might end in disaster. The Beast of Cretacea (Candlewick, 2015; Gr 6 Up) swirls grand high seas adventure, classic sci-fi elements, environmental cautions, and coming-of-age self-discoveries into a rich and multilayered tale. Readers will root for the protagonist who repeatedly proves himself intelligent, loyal, and courageous as he takes on pirates, tries to keep his friends and family safe, and seeks to do the right thing, and the book’s surprise ending will have them reexamining the entire story.
True Love Knows No Boundaries
Two heart-rousing romances star heroines who discover that they have the ability to travel through time, a zeal for adventure, and the courage to fall in love. In Alexandra Bracken’s Passenger (Disney-Hyperion, Jan. 2016; Gr 9 Up), first in a new series, violin soloist Etta Spencer, 17, is preparing to make an appearance at a fund-raising event in New York City when she unexpectedly awakens aboard a ship in 1776. She is shocked to discover that she is descended from a family of time travelers, and that Cyrus Ironwood, a power-hungry man determined to bring all of the travelers under his control and manipulate events to his advantage, is holding her mother responsible for the theft of an important astrolabe. Following clues left in letters and paintings, Etta must journey through different locales and eras to find the artifact. Tasked to accompany her is Nicholas Carter, a biracial freed slave and privateer who longs to be done with the Ironwoods and follow his dream of captaining his own ship. Rich details of time and place are interwoven into the century-spanning narrative, which switches back and forth in point of view between the main characters to reveal their differences in culture and perspective, as well as their increasingly steamy feelings for each other.
Hope Walton, an introverted 16-year-old, lost her adoptive mother in an overseas earthquake several months ago and can’t help feeling out of place in her stepfather’s extended family and their small-town home in the South. Though her claustrophobia makes air travel difficult, she reluctantly agrees to visit her mother’s sister in the remote Scottish Highlands. Upon her arrival, family secrets are revealed along with an underground cavern hidden beneath the house. Aunt Lucinda explains that her mother was a member of a secret society of time travelers able to step Into the Dim (HMH, Mar. 2016; Gr 8 Up)—a wormholelike passage—and journey to the past, and that she’s still alive but trapped in 1154 London. Armed with the eclectic knowledge afforded by her photographic memory and accompanied by two other teens, Hope journeys back to the Middle Ages to track down her mother, where she encounters time-traveling enemies who will stop at nothing to have their way, mysteries about her own past, and a maddeningly enigmatic and incredibly handsome boy who may be friend or foe. Janet B. Taylor’s absorbing novel keeps the action moving with well-timed revelations, deftly drawn historical events and personages, and a sparks-flying romance.
BRACKEN, Alexandra. Passenger. Disney-Hyperion. Jan. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781484715772.
DUYVIS, Corinne. On the Edge of Gone. Amulet/Abrams. Mar. 2016. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781419719035.
FLOREEN, Tim. Willful Machines. S. & S./Simon Pulse. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481432771.
HUTCHINSON, Shaun David. We Are the Ants. S. & S./Simon Pulse. Jan. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481449632.
SKRUTSKIE, Emily. The Abyss Surrounds Us. Flux. Feb. 2016. pap. $11.99. ISBN 9780738746913.
STRASSER, Todd. The Beast of Cretacea. Candlewick. 2015. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780763669010.
TAYLOR, Janet. B. Into the Dim. HMH. Mar. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780544602007.
WELLS, Dan. Bluescreen. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. Feb. 2016. Tr. $17.99. ISBN 9780062347879.
WESTERFELD, Scott, Margo Lanagan, & Deborah Biancotti. Zeroes. S. & S./Simon Pulse. 2015. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781481443364.
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