School is—or will soon be—out! Actually out. No more Zoom meetings with teachers or writing essays from your parents’ house. I’m writing this in early May, to be published late May, with the hope that COVID-19 will be under control enough that we can socialize again. Even us introverts are getting itchy. But even if we can finally leave our homes, bookworms are gonna bookworm. Even in the summer. Here’s a list of my favorite young adult novels in the sci-fi/fantasy genres.
(Same rules apply: every book has solid representation of girls/people of color/LGBTQ+ community, etc. Links lead to more detailed, spoiler-free reviews.)
1. Your monthly reminder to read everything by Rick Riordan
Start with the Percy Jackson series, then Heroes of Olympus, then Trials of Apollo, which happens concurrently with the Magnus Chase trilogy. It’s a lot of books, but they’re all fast reads. It’s rare for me to take more than three days to finish.
Historical fiction, with zombies! In Justina Ireland’s alternate America, the dead rise at the battle of Gettysburg, calling off the Civil War and completely changing the course of history. Dread Nation takes place a couple of decades later, told from the point of view of a Black girl trained to be a bodyguard against the dead. So instead of the usual theme of “humans are the real monsters,” it’s more “racism is the real monster.”
A sequel recently came out, which I haven’t read yet. Talk to me again when I can go to the bookstore.
Flesh-eating mermaids trying to wipe out an island of people, featuring same-sex Romeo and Juliet! (Romia and Juliet?)
Every year, the humans of the slowly starving island send twenty men on a boat to kill as many mermaids as possible. The problem is, the mermaids have a siren-like ability, called the lure, which allows them to hypnotize men so they’re easier to kill. Finally, the humans start sending out women.
The big issue there is that the main character, Meela, is best friends with one of the mermaids, who eventually becomes her girlfriend.
This Latinx post-apocalyptic setting is ruled by a crime lord and her army of girl gangs. The main character is trying to get into the Towers, the most luxurious place in the city and the seat of power. But to get there, she has to do an undercover mission outside of the city. The resulting adventure forces her to question everything she’s ever known and believed in.
It’s very light in romance (huge plus for me), and since the goal is never “take down the dystopian government,” it’s not what happens. The focus is on the main character’s inner journey, not the unrealistic fall of a massive empire at the hands of a band of plucky teenagers.
This epic fantasy YA series is a beautiful mess of plot twists, magic, and romance. The main character is an assassin who, at the very beginning, is in the salt mines for her crimes against the tyrannical king. She gets pulled out because the king is having a secret competition of all the best assassins in the land to see who’s the best. The winner will serve as his own personal killer, a very cushy job with the resources our main character needs to stay out of the mines completely.
The first couple of books are cool, but the series really gets momentum in book three. Not only do we uncover more about our main character’s past, but we also get introduced to some other major characters, including my personal favorite, the witch Manon. Honestly, just read it for her.
Fun science fact: some planets don’t rotate. One side is always facing the sun, and is so hot that anything less sturdy than stone will burst into flame. The other side is an icy wasteland, cold as Pluto.
The City in the Middle of the Night is set on the planet January, which does not rotate. As such, all the humans live in the twilight zone, that one sliver of habitable living space. There are a handful of cities in that zone, and the political turmoil going on is more dangerous than the planet itself.
7. The Nemesis Series by April Daniels
What if Superman was a transgender teenager? That’s basically the premise of this two-book series. Dani is a closeted trans girl (assigned male at birth) until she inherits the power of Dreadnought, which—on top of giving her super strength and flight—also changes her body into her own personal ideal, which in this case, is a beautiful girl. It immediately outs her.
On top of dealing with her emotionally abusive family and other personal dilemmas, Dani also has to deal with the superhero community. She’s got a couple of true allies, a few who only want her for her powers, and the “heroes” who are grossly prejudiced against her. (There’s a TERF who goes from antagonist to full-blown villain in book two, and gets an absolutely beautiful comeuppance.)
What are you favorite young adult sci-fi/fantasy novels? Let us know in the comments!