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Stuff for the Teen Age

Other Worlds and Alternate Realities in Teen Fiction


  • Imagine living in a world where young people compete in televised games.  The winner earns the right to live, plenty of food for his or her family, and prosperity for the entire district.  But each game has only one winner, and all of the losers die.
  • Imagine if the moon was hit by a meteor and shifted out of its orbit.
  • Imagine living in a world where plants can kill you and butterflies can explode.
  • Imagine if the world was so dark that nobody could see without electricity and light bulbs—and the only generator in the city was breaking down.
  • Imagine living in a world where everyone goes under the knife and is made beautiful as soon as they turn sixteen.

I've been a fan of fantasy and science fiction for many years, but I know that not everyone shares my enthusiasm for these genres.  One of my challenges as a librarian who visits schools and introduces teens to great books is balancing the books I know they'll like with the books I want them to like.  Unfortunately, the words "fantasy" and "science fiction" can sometimes set off a love/hate reaction in my audience.  If the kids in front of me love these genres, then everything is great.  But if they associate these genres with topics they're sick of (like wizards or sparkly vampires), then sometimes I'll get the backlash reaction of "I HATE FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION!!!"  So what I end up doing is recommending books with fantastic elements that I enjoy, and looking for ways to share those books with all types of audiences.

Here are a few of my favorite books, new and old, that I share with teenagers to show them different sides of the fantasy and science fiction genres ... usually without using the words "fantasy" or "science fiction" at all.  And no, there's not a single wizard or sparkly vampire in the bunch!


House of Stairs by William Sleator [1974]

While this book is older than today's teenagers (I read this book when *I* was a kid), it still holds up very well.  In a plot similar to the TV series Persons Unknown, a group of people who don't know each other wake up to find themselves in a very unusual prison.  In this case, the prisoners are teenagers, and the prison is made up of stairs, platforms, and a strange machine.  This book is filled with lots of psychological suspense, as the teens realize that they are being watched at all times, and they try to outguess their captors and each other in their efforts to survive.



Running Out of Time by Margaret Peterson Haddix [1995]

A 13-year-old girl living in 1840 watches helplessly as a diptheria epidemic sweeps through her village.  When Jessie's mother tells her that she will need to go outside the village to get help, Jessie never imagines what she'll find there.





The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau [2003]

The city of Ember would be in total darkness if the lights ever went out.  Now the generator that has been running the city for hundreds of years is breaking down and the city's emergency supplies (including lightbulbs) are running out.  Two 12-year-old kids, Lina and Doon, are going to risk their lives to try and save their city.




Uglies by Scott Westerfeld [2005]

Tally Youngblood is about to turn sixteen, and she's very excited about turning Pretty.  She can't wait to leave her ugly life behind her, to have all of her flaws fixed and cut away so that she can start her new life as a beautiful person.  When Tally's friend Shay runs away to join a rebel settlement called the Smoke, the authorities give Tally an impossible choice: find Shay and reveal the secret location of the Smoke ... or else stay ugly forever.



Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer [2006]

Everyone was talking about the meteor that was going to hit the moon.  It was supposed to be so big and so spectacular that people would be able to see it without a telescope.  Everyone stood in front of their houses to watch, and as promised, it was like something out of a movie.  But the scene quickly became frightening.  Because the moon seemed too large in the sky, or maybe too close.  It wasn't until the next day that people learned just how much the world had changed overnight.


The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson [2008]

Jenna Fox is awake after coming out of a coma, although she doesn't remember the accident or anything that happened before it.  She has trouble remembering her family, her friends, or even the girl she sees in the mirror.  But it isn't until she realizes that none of her friends have called her or sent her get-well cards that she begins to think that her parents might have lied to her about what really happened in that accident.



Graceling by Kristin Cashore [2008]

Katsa lives in a world in which people with different-colored eyes are Graced.  That means they have the ability to do something exceptionally well -- it could be cooking, singing, dancing, or just about anything.  When Katsa kills a man with her bare hands when she is just a child, everyone knows what her Grace is.  And everyone is afraid of her.




The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins [2008]

When Katniss stands up to take her sister's place in the Hunger Games, she knows that she's putting her own life at risk.  After all, the winner is the only one who can survive this televised fight to the death.  But Katniss thinks that she has a fighting chance ... until she starts developing feelings for one of her competitors.




Generation Dead by Daniel Waters [2008]

Tommy Williams is trying out for his high school football team.  This wouldn't be so unusual, except for the fact that Tommy is differently biotic.  Living disabled.  A zombie, if you will.  He is just one of the many teenagers across the country who won't stay dead.





The Carbon Diaries 2015 by Saci Lloyd [2008]

Forget about trying to reduce the size of your carbon footprint.  By the year 2015, the environment is such a disaster that radical new measures are being proposed.  England is the first nation to attempt carbon rationing, and Laura's diary records the danger and chaos of the first year of this experiment.





Bones of Faerie by Janni Lee Simner [2009]

It's been years since the war between humanity and Faerie ended.  Residual magic still contaminates the world, especially in the plants and trees that try to attack any humans who get too close.  The rule of the town is that any sign of magic must be destroyed.  When Liza's sister was born with faerie-pale hair, their father left her on a hillside to die.  Now Liza is discovering a magical ability in herself, and she knows that her own life is in danger.



The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan [2010]

The author who rose to fame with his Percy Jackson and the Olympians series now begins a new series (The Kane Chronicles) with this exciting story.  Carter and Sadie thought their lives were bad after their mother died.  But they never imagined the connection between their mother's death and their father's secrets, or the new roles that they would have to play in the dangerous battle to save the earth from destruction.


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