Classic Teen Reads for the YA Sci-fi Reader

Today at the League, we are pleased to welcome Phoebe North! Phoebe is a sci fi writer herself, and co-founder of the sci-fi review blog The Intergalactic Academy. If you're not already reading and following The Intergalactic Academy, then you absolutely must click over to it now. As their website says, "it’s your online source for everything YA sci-fi, from reviews of new book releases, to rereads of teen SF classics, to interviews with your favorite authors and nifty tech-link round ups."

Classic Teen Reads for the YA Sci-fi Reader

By Phoebe North

As blogs like this one show, young adult science fiction is undergoing a fantastic resurgence. More writers are looking at the world through a speculative lens than ever before. But there are some great predecessors to modern YA sci-fi that are often overlooked. Though these "teen" books might be a bit slimmer than what passes muster in YA these days (word counts back in the pre-Harry Potter days were much lower), here are three titles that are still worth a look by any YA sci-fi reader or writer:

The Girl With the Silver Eyes by Willo Davis Roberts

Katie Welker is used to being alone. She would much rather read a book than deal with other people. Other people don't have silver eyes and other people can't make things happen just by thinking about them! Sometimes Katie even enjoys playing tricks on people.

This early-90s speculative classic is a beautifully-written story about a girl who is different from her peers. Katie's tale will appeal to anyone who has ever felt a little bit freaky--and maybe, secretly, hoped that this freakiness really meant they have superpowers. It's recently gotten a rerelease with a gorgeous new cover.

The Tripod Series by John Christopher

(The White Mountains/The City of Gold and Lead/The Pool of Fire/When the Tripods Came)

Long ago, the Tripods--huge, three-legged machines--descended upon Earth and took control. Now people unquestioningly accept the Tripods' power. They have no control over their thoughts or their lives. But for a brief time in each person's life--in childhood--he is not a slave. For Will, his time of freedom is about to end--unless he can escape to the White Mountains, where the possibility of freedom still exists. The Tripods trilogy follows the adventures of Will and his cohorts, as they try to evade the Tripods and maintain their freedom and ultimately do battle against them. The prequel, When the Tripods Came, explains how the Tripods first invaded and gained control of the planet.

This trilogy (followed by a prequel in the 80s) shows what happens after your classic alien invasion. The White Mountains opens in a seemingly-idyllic, quasi-Medieval world--until you learn that the "caps" that are placed on children's heads when they turn twelve are really a type of mind control executed by their alien masters. There are a few places where the original trilogy volumes show their age (mostly through some weird, dated racial descriptors), but it's otherwise fantastic, particularly the second volume. In The City of Gold and Lead, Will infiltrates an alien city. His alien Master is creepy, gross, and skin-crawingly sympathetic.

Z for Zachariah by Robert C. O'Brien

A gripping, thought-provoking story about life after a nuclear holocaust, by a Newbery Medalist. 

Ann Burden is sixteen years old and completely alone. The world as she once knew it is gone, ravaged by a nuclear war that has taken everyone from her. For the past year, she has lived in a remote valley with no evidence of any other survivors.

But the smoke from a distant campfire shatters Ann's solitude. Someone else is still alive and making his way toward the valley. Who is this man? What does he want? Can he be trusted? Both excited and terrified, Ann soon realizes there may be worse things than being the last person on Earth.

Forget The Road. Z for Zachariah is easily my favorite post-apocalyptic tale. Rather than telling the story of a Mad-Maxian band of wanders, like most post-apocalyptic stories, Robert C. O'Brien weaves a tale of a much more likely survivor--Ann, alone in her family's isolated country home. But when a visitor arrives, Ann must figure out if she can trust him--and if her solitude is worth protecting. Haunting and mournful and above all very real, Z for Zachariah is a great read for any post-apocalyptic fan.

Phoebe North is a 20-something writer from New York State. She reviews young adult science fiction--and writes about all sorts of YASF stuff--at the The Intergalactic Academy


Kayeleen Hamblin said...

I read and loved all these books as a young teenager. I saved copies for my kids. Such great books.

Josin L. McQuein said...

I *loved* The Girl with the Silver Eyes when I was a teen. It was so different from most of the books in our school library.

Phoebe North said...

Thanks for the comments, guys! Josin, did it leave you craving a sequel, too? I always wanted to find out what happened with Katie and co.

Bethany said...

The Girl with the Silver Eyes was the only book I read on the list, but it was one of my favorite books in elementary school. The only scene I remember clearly from the book is the (I hope I'm saying this right) pencil-stabby part. I remember thinking that the principal was so unfair for being mean to Katie. I was so sad no one else my age seemed to have read it.