What should a mixed-race, autistic, 16-year-old be willing to do to avoid certain death in an apocalyptic hellhole?
A comet's about to strike Earth, and the rich, powerful, or lucky have choices: they can survive in underground shelters for the decades until the planet is once again easily habitable or take to a generation ship headed to deep space. Daughter of a Dutch woman and an Afro-Surinamese man, Denise is none of the above; her family has a spot in a temporary shelter, after which they’ll be stuck in the post-comet wasteland Amsterdam (and much of the planet) will have become. Denise finds temporary refuge in a secret generation ship, but the residents jealously guard their precious resources. She's desperate to find a place on the ship for her family, but on a ship where the two choices are "usefulness or death," she worries they'll never choose her drug-addicted mother—or her autistic self. Meanwhile she seeks her sister, lost in the rubble of Amsterdam. Heroism isn't restricted to Denise, nor is she the only complex, deeply imperfect character to make selfish choices in this unbearable world. It's unsurprising that Duyvis, autistic herself, draws a superbly nuanced portrait of Denise as person (not a collection of pitiable autism tropes or cure narratives), but what makes this a winner is the nerve-wracking adventure.
Life-affirming science fiction with spaceships, optimism in the apocalypse, and a diverse cast that reflects the real world
. (Science fiction. 11-15)
This latest novel from Hartley (Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, 2014, etc.), his debut for teens, is social commentary masquerading as crime fiction masquerading as fantasy.
The book opens with a murder and a mystery: the invaluable luxorite stone that lights the Beacon at the heart of Bar-Selehm is stolen, and Berrit, a young Lani boy, is found dead at the bottom of a spire. Hartley’s fictional world is dense and rich. Though heavy with exposition in the beginning, the plot deftly explores the economic and political entanglements of the native black Mahweni, the white settlers from Feldesland, and the brown Lani people the Feldish brought as servants. Determined to get justice for her would-be apprentice, Lani steeplejack and narrator Anglet Sutonga discovers that Berrit’s death is but a small part in a larger conspiracy to gain wealth and power at any cost. The diverse cast of characters reflects the varying classes and races that intersect and clash in the post-colonial city. The close first-person perspective keeps readers’ hearts pounding as Anglet draws ever closer to the truth. The tension stays taut throughout the book, heightened with each precipice Anglet climbs: if she falls, the city goes to war.
Smart political intrigue wrapped in all the twists and turns of a good detective story makes for a rip-roaring series opener.
(Fantasy. 13 & up)
In a gritty future, hackers must fight an evil corporation trying to turn humans into mechanically altered zombies.
SP4RX is a bitnite, or a hacker for hire, barely keeping himself and his best friend, CL1PP3R, afloat with the odd freelancing job. The pair is commissioned by a profiteer to steal a beta botnet program from the prestigious Gaius Corp. The purloined program can control the existing Elpis Program, a dubious free procedure that bionically modifies humans to increase efficiency. However, when a mysterious female bitnite steals the botnet program from SP4RX, he soon finds himself falling down a terrifying rabbit hole of corporate greed that seeks to use the Elpis Program to turn the modified persons into controlled zombies. Told through visually active panels awash with a spectrum of blacks and purples, McDonald’s tale has a wonderfully indie feel that marches in smart synchrony with its nonconformist antihero. For exposition, McDonald intersperses bits of television ads or interviews, creating a depth to his world without awkward infodumps. Teeming with rogue robots, political and corporate corruption, and raw, unflinchingly violent action, this is a must-read for fans seeking a smart sci-fi graphic offering that's a bit off the beaten path.
A pulls-no-punches techno-thriller; think Mr. Robot meets The Stepford Wives.
(Graphic science fiction. 15 & up)
Two girls from very different backgrounds find autonomy, strength, and identity as they fight against corporate greed and medical corruption.
Gemma was born to rich and powerful parents. Lyra was made in a lab. Both white girls have spent their lives protected behind walls: Gemma, under her parents’ watchful eyes, and Lyra, under the care of nurses at the Haven Institute. The latter has always known she’s a replica, a clone created by doctors from human stem cells. The heavily guarded Haven Institute’s activities are shrouded in mystery and speculation, and when an explosion destroys the facility, both girls’ carefully formed worlds topple in the aftermath. Events unfold quickly as Gemma and Lyra learn they’re not who they thought they were, that the truth goes much deeper than either ever thought. The dual narrative is presented as two books in one; it’s up to readers to decide how to proceed: read each girl’s story separately or in alternating chapters. There are very few characters of color: Caelum, another replica and key secondary character, is described as “mixed race”; Gemma’s Latina best friend has two high-powered moms. Deep-rooted racial and ethnic inequality is hinted at in the “birthers,” the dark-skinned women who carry and give birth to replicated babies and don’t speak English. Gemma’s fatness is a source of embarrassment, but, unusually, she grows emotionally without losing weight.
A reading experience not to be missed—or forgotten
. (Science fiction. 15 & up)
Two teens train to be society-sanctioned killers in an otherwise immortal world.
On post-mortal Earth, humans live long (if not particularly passionate) lives without fear of disease, aging, or accidents. Operating independently of the governing AI (called the Thunderhead since it evolved from the cloud), scythes rely on 10 commandments, quotas, and their own moral codes to glean the population. After challenging Hon. Scythe Faraday, 16-year-olds Rowan Damisch and Citra Terranova reluctantly become his apprentices. Subjected to killcraft training, exposed to numerous executions, and discouraged from becoming allies or lovers, the two find themselves engaged in a fatal competition but equally determined to fight corruption and cruelty. The vivid and often violent action unfolds slowly, anchored in complex worldbuilding and propelled by political machinations and existential musings. Scythes’ journal entries accompany Rowan’s and Citra’s dual and dueling narratives, revealing both personal struggles and societal problems. The futuristic post–2042 MidMerican world is both dystopia and utopia, free of fear, unexpected death, and blatant racism—multiracial main characters discuss their diverse ethnic percentages rather than purity—but also lacking creativity, emotion, and purpose. Elegant and elegiac, brooding but imbued with gallows humor, Shusterman’s dark tale thrusts realistic, likable teens into a surreal situation and raises deep philosophic questions.
A thoughtful and thrilling story of life, death, and meaning.
(Science fiction. 14 & up)
“Bones Found to Be of Human Origin, Blood Beginning to Fester.” In the spirit of M.T. Anderson’s Thirsty (1997), Ward’s apocalyptic novel will have readers checking the ground beneath their feet after each turn of the page.
Readers meet Lea, a confident teenage girl who just wants to hang out with her friends and spend quality time with her new girlfriend, Aracely. But when the Earth begins to ooze blood and other body parts, Lea’s hometown becomes a war zone, with citizens fighting over fresh water and food rations, and Lea becomes ever more concerned with her dwindling faith in humanity, her declining mental state, and the blood that won’t stop rising. To her family and close friends, Lea’s sexuality is largely a nonissue, which is refreshing (and sensible, considering the impending apocalypse); furthermore, readers looking for the next LGBT heroine will love Lea’s strong-willed attitude. The frightful moments are craftily deployed, creeping up and startling readers when they’re least expecting it. And the government PSAs regarding the blood that punctuate Lea’s narration are enough to panic even the most fearless of readers, their commonplace mundanity highlighting the freakishness.
Grisly and sickening (but in the best way possible), the novel more than delivers on its promise of the macabre for lovers of horror, and curious readers will close the book with countless questions about religion, science, and human nature.
(Horror. 13 & up)