Great reads for pre-teens and teens in SF/Fantasy

Since I love SciFi, although not much fantasy, when it came time to help my youngest (and my oldest to some extent, although she was more pre-Harry Potter, and thus didn’t have the new wave of SF/Fantasy for pre-teens and teens), I picked books that were in that area. I did not include the obvious, like J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter (7 volume set), Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy, Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time set, or Undersea series (6 books) by Ursula K. Le Guin, as they are long-standing classics. I have others I will cover in another post.

So here are some of my Picks from recent years, grouped by age, although some are hard to pin down – I enjoyed them, so all ages could enjoy the younger books, unless they scorn to read something soooo juvenile. : )

I’ll quote from Amazon’s reviews, and add a few comments of my own.


Gregor, the Overlander (and sequels) by Suzanne Collins: “What if Alice fell down an air vent in a New York City apartment building instead of down a rabbit hole? Collins considers a similar possibility in her exceptional debut novel, a well-written, fast-moving, action-packed fantasy. Eleven-year-old Gregor expects a long, boring summer of baby-sitting his two-year-old sister, Boots, and his senile grandmother. Distracted with thoughts about his father, who disappeared three years ago, Gregor belatedly notices that Boots has crawled into an air vent in the laundry room. He dives in after her, and the two are sucked downward into the Underland, a fantastic subterranean world of translucent-skinned, violet-eyed humans, and giant talking cockroaches, bats, spiders, and rats. Eventually, the terrified Gregor is transformed into a warrior hero who leads a successful battle against an army of invading rats and discovers his father, who has long been held prisoner by the enemy. Collins creates a fascinating, vivid, highly original world and a superb story to go along with it, and Gregor is endearing as a caring, responsible big brother who rises triumphantly to every challenge.” Booklist

This series I truly enjoyed reading out-loud to my younger daughter. It was fun, full of wonderful characters, and a rat you will never forget. A Don’t Miss book

Gregor the Overlander

City of Ember(and sequels) by Jeanne DuPrau: “It is always night in the city of Ember. But there is no moon, no stars. The only light during the regular twelve hours of “day” comes from floodlamps that cast a yellowish glow over the streets of the city. Beyond are the pitch-black Unknown Regions, which no one has ever explored because an understanding of fire and electricity has been lost, and with it the idea of a Moveable Light. “Besides,” they tell each other, “there is nowhere but here” Among the many other things the people of Ember have forgotten is their past and a direction for their future. For 250 years they have lived pleasantly, because there has been plenty of everything in the vast storerooms. But now there are more and more empty shelves–and more and more times when the lights flicker and go out, leaving them in terrifying blackness for long minutes. What will happen when the generator finally fails?

Twelve-year-old Doon Harrow and Lina Mayfleet seem to be the only people who are worried. They have just been assigned their life jobs–Lina as a messenger, which leads her to knowledge of some unsettling secrets, and Doon as a Pipeworker, repairing the plumbing in the tunnels under the city where a river roars through the darkness. But when Lina finds a very old paper with enigmatic “Instructions for Egress,” they use the advantages of their jobs to begin to puzzle out the frightening and dangerous way to the city of light of which Lina has dreamed. As they set out on their mission, the haunting setting and breathless action of this stunning first novel will have teens clamoring for a sequel.”

A great series, and one which I, as an adult, was never bored with. Not to be missed – The sequels aren’t as strong, IMO, but worth reading for the moral lessons – I haven’t read the third one yet – too many stacked up!.

City of Ember

Levin Thumps and the Gateway to Foo (and sequels) by Obert Skye: “This imaginative and entertaining young adult fantasy novel successfully depicts an unusual boy’s coming of age. Oklahoma orphan teen Leven Thumps has a hidden and powerful talent: he can glimpse, and then manipulate, the future. He is also the only person on the planet who can protect the gateway to Foo, a mythical realm whose existence ensures that human beings in this reality retain the ability to dream, hope and imagine. Sabine, the wicked ruler of Foo, wants to extend his tyranny by ruling this world as well-but if that happens, no one on Earth would ever be able to dream again. As Lev hurries to find the gateway between the two worlds before Sabine does, he encounters several friends to help him: Winter, a bright 13-year-old girl who can instantly freeze things and people just by wishing it; Clover, an adorable, foot-high furry creature from Foo who has been assigned as Lev’s companion (and, apparently, as comic relief); and Geth, the wise but displaced king of Foo, who alone knows the full secret of the gateway. Obert Skye’s imagined world of Foo contains many whimsical and delightful elements, such as Humble Pie that apologizes for its own flavor and promises to taste better next time, and candy that temporarily rearranges its chewer’s body parts.” Publisher’s Weekly

While I didn’t read this one, and the editorial reviews were mixed on the prose and adult characters, I know my daughter loved the books, and at 14, still reads them as they come out.

Levin Thumps

Cryptid Huntersby Roland Smith: “When twins Marty and Grace O’Hara discover that their adventurous parents have gone missing, they leave their Swiss boarding school and join their mysterious uncle, Travis Wolfe, on his island in Washington State. They soon learn that their uncle is one of the world’s foremost authorities on cryptids (think Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster). Wolfe is scheduled to look for dinosaurs in the African jungle, and he plans to leave Marty and Grace in Europe before the expedition starts. Things go awry, however, when an accident plunges Marty and Grace into the middle of the Congolese jungle. Soon the henchmen of the evil Noah Blackwood are pursuing the twins. The action is nonstop in this well-paced jungle adventure, and Smith adds a deeper layer in scenes of Marty and Grace discovering truths about their complicated family relationships.” Booklist

Smith has written several others in this vein, which are also exciting. Because of the “cryptid” nature, I included this, although strictly speaking, it’s not really SF/Fantasy, more adventure.

Cryptid Hunters

The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke: “Imagine a Dickens story with a Venetian setting, and you’ll have a good sense of Cornelia Funke’s prizewinning novel The Thief Lord, first published in Germany in 2000. This suspenseful tale begins in a detective’s office in Venice, as the entirely unpleasant Hartliebs request Victor Getz’s services to search for two boys, Prosper and Bo, the sons of Esther Hartlieb’s recently deceased sister. Twelve-year-old Prosper and 5-year-old Bo ran away when their aunt decided she wanted to adopt Bo, but not his brother. Refusing to split up, they escaped to Venice, a city their mother had always described reverently, in great detail. Right away they hook up with a long-haired runaway named Hornet and various other ruffians who hole up in an abandoned movie theater and worship the elusive Thief Lord, a young boy named Scipio who steals jewels from fancy Venetian homes so his new friends can get the warm clothes they need. Of course, the plot thickens when the owner of the pawn shop asks if the Thief Lord will carry out a special mission for a wealthy client: to steal a broken wooden wing that is the key to completing an age-old, magical merry-go-round. This winning cast of characters–especially the softhearted detective with his two pet turtles–will win the hearts of readers young and old, and the adventures are as labyrinthine and magical as the streets of Venice itself.”

This one is slower paced, but magical and whimsical. There is a movie, that is fairly close to the book. Funke has also written Inkheart and other stories that are always on recommended lists.

The Thief Lord

Last Book in the Universeby Rodman Philbrick: ” boy who lives on the fringes of his surreal future world, partly because epilepsy prevents him from using the mind probes most people use to blot out reality, sets out on a classic quest to save his ill foster sister. To do so, he must cross forbidden territory and face frightening gangs and their leaders. He picks up companions as he travels: Ryter, a philosophic old man whose treasure is the book he is writing despite knowing that books and reading are of the past; Littleface, a young almost speechless child; and Linnea, a “prove” (genetically improved person). In saving his sister, Spaz learns about himself and his parentage. This action-packed story has some strong and provocative messages.” School Library Journal

This book was one we both enjoyed and, rare for my younger daughter, gave it to a friend to read. She adored it, and I found it’s message quite profound for a youth book – on par with the Giver, IMO.

Last Book in the Universe

Crystal Doors: Island Realm (trilogy) by Rebecca Moesta and Kevin J. Anderson: “Fourteen-year-old Gwen and Vic are “twin” cousins. They were born on the same day, their fathers are identical twins, and their mothers are sisters. Gwen has been living with Vic and Uncle Cap since her parents died and her aunt went missing. When the cousins walk into an experiment that Uncle Cap is performing with an elaborate crystal setup, they are swept into a parallel world. The portal, which leads to the island world of Elantya, a hub between many worlds, has been sealed for many ages to prevent an evil sorcerer from conquering all. Elantya hosts a school of powerful sages and gifted apprentices who use written magic to fight merlons, water-dwelling enemies who are disrupting the travel between worlds and aggressively attacking the Elantyans and their visitors. Joined by Sharif, who flies on a magic carpet, and a telepath named Lyssandra, Vic and Gwen must face dangers such as flying piranhas and armored sea serpents in order to set things right. This is a fast-paced beginning for the Crystal Doors trilogy.” Booklist

Although we haven’t finished this one yet, the story, although it starts slow, as it is setting the stage for a trilogy, is one of high adventure and fantasy. The authors are well known for the Star Wars: Young Jedi Knights series which my oldest loved and the Dune prequels.

Crystal Doors

The Giver by Lois Lowry: In a world with no poverty, no crime, no sickness and no unemployment, and where every family is happy, 12-year-old Jonas is chosen to be the community’s Receiver of Memories. Under the tutelage of the Elders and an old man known as the Giver, he discovers the disturbing truth about his utopian world and struggles against the weight of its hypocrisy. With echoes of Brave New World, in this 1994 Newbery Medalwinner, Lowry examines the idea that people might freely choose to give up their humanity in order to create a more stable society. Gradually Jonas learns just how costly this ordered and pain-free society can be, and boldly decides he cannot pay the price.”

This book really “caught” me and I recommend it to anyone who wants to think about society. A young person’s Anthem by Ayn Rand.

The Giver

Heirs of the Force: Star Wars: The Young Jedi Knights, Book Oneby Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta: “Young Jedi Knightsis a Star Wars series by science fcition writer Kevin J. Anderson and his wife, Rebecca Moesta. The series covers the Jedi training of Jacen and Jaina Solo, the twin children of Han Solo and Leia Organa Solo. The series begins 23 years ABY, when the twins are fourteen years old.

Originally intended to cover six novels, the series eventually stretched to fourteen volumes. It spanned three distinct plot arcs:

  1. The first plot arc covers the young Jedi Knights’ fight against the dark Jedi Brakiss and his Shadow Academy, which eventually builds in strength enough to attack the Jedi Academy on Yavin 4. This plot arc also introduces the twins, as well as other supporting characters.
  2. The series became popular enough to support a second plot arc, consisting of the novels Shards of Alderaan to The Emperor’s Plague. This series deals with the young Jedi Knights’ fight against the Diversity Alliance, a group of non-humans seeking to take down the New Republic.
  3. The final three-part series details the young Jedi Knights’ relationship with Anja Gallandro, the daughter of Gallandro, a gunslinger who died while fighting Han Solo a long time ago.

Because it is geared towards younger readers, the Young Jedi Knights series is notable for tackling issues such as racism and drug abuse that are relevant in both the Star Wars universe and our present-day world.” Wikipedia: Young Jedi Knights

Young Jedi Knights


Mister Monday: The Keys to the Kingdom, Book One (and sequels) by Garth Nix: “Arthur Penhaligon’s school year is not off to a good start. On his first day, he suffers an asthma attack while running cross country and dreams that a mysterious figure hands him a key shaped like the minute hand of a clock. However, when he wakes up, he still has the key. That’s when strange things begin to happen. Mister Monday dispatches terrifying, dog-faced Fetchers to retrieve it, a bizarre sleeping illness sweeps the city, and only Arthur can see the weird new house that appears in his neighborhood. The seventh grader knows it all has something to do with the key, one of seven elusive fragments of the Will to which he has become heir apparent, and a mysterious atlas. When he ventures inside the house, he meets more strange characters than he could have imagined, none of whom are what they seem. And, of course, he must battle Monday, who will do anything to get the key back. With the help of the key, Arthur must fight his way out. The first in a seven part series for middle graders is every bit as exciting and suspenseful as the author’s previous young adult novels.” School Library Journal

This set was/is entertaining, odd, and can be confusing to younger, less experienced readers. But those who persevere will find delights that unfold as the story does, and the sequels are a must for the complete picture of the Kingdom.

Mister Monday

Sabriel: The Abhorsen Trilogy (and sequels) by Garth Nix: “After receiving a cryptic message from her father, Abhorsen, a necromancer trapped in Death, 18-year-old Sabriel sets off into the Old Kingdom. Fraught with peril and deadly trickery, her journey takes her to a world filled with parasitical spirits, Mordicants, and Shadow Hands. Unlike other necromancers, who raise the dead, Abhorsen lays the disturbed dead back to rest. This obliges him–and now Sabriel, who has taken on her father’s title and duties–to slip over the border into the icy river of Death, sometimes battling the evil forces that lurk there, waiting for an opportunity to escape into the realm of the living. Desperate to find her father, and grimly determined to help save the Old Kingdom from destruction by the horrible forces of the evil undead, Sabriel endures almost impossible exhaustion, violent confrontations, and terrifying challenges to her supernatural abilities–and her destiny.

Garth Nix delves deep into the mystical underworld of necromancy, magic, and the monstrous undead. This tale is not for the faint of heart; imbedded in the classic good-versus-evil story line are subplots of grisly ghouls hungry for human life to perpetuate their stay in the world of the living, and dark, devastating secrets of betrayal and loss.”

This was an all-time favorite of my older daughter who liked her fiction more dense (like Ayn Rand and Sartre), and because of it became fascinated with Dante’s Inferno and read that. Highly recommended for more adult teen readers.


Shade’s Children by Garth Nix: “In the brutal world of Shade’s Children, your 14th birthday is your last. Malevolent Overlords rule the earth, directing hideous, humanoid creatures to harvest the brains and muscles of teens for use in engineering foul beasts to fight senseless wars. Young Gold-Eye escapes this horrific fate, fleeing the dormitories before his Sad Birthday. He is rescued from certain doom by other refugees who live in an abandoned submarine and work for Shade, a strange, computer-generated adult. Shade provides food and shelter in exchange for information that the children gather on dangerous forays into Overlord territory. But what does Shade really want? He is a sworn enemy of the Overlords, but his use of the children to gain knowledge and power seems uncaring and ruthless. Finally, Gold-Eye and his new friends set out to destroy the Overlords–with or without the enigmatic, dangerous Shade.”

This one I haven’t read, but as you can see a pattern here – anything by Nix goes in our house. And this is one I want to read. If only I can find it in her boxes of books she left here.

Shades Children

The Uglies(trilogy plus The Extras) by Scott Westerfield: “Playing on every teen’s passionate desire to look as good as everybody else, Scott Westerfeld (Midnighters) projects a future world in which a compulsory operation at sixteen wipes out physical differences and makes everyone pretty by conforming to an ideal standard of beauty. The “New Pretties” are then free to play and party, while the younger “Uglies” look on enviously and spend the time before their own transformations in plotting mischievous tricks against their elders. Tally Youngblood is one of the most daring of the Uglies, and her imaginative tricks have gotten her in trouble with the menacing department of Special Circumstances. She has yearned to be pretty, but since her best friend Shay ran away to the rumored rebel settlement of recalcitrant Uglies called The Smoke, Tally has been troubled. The authorities give her an impossible choice: either she follows Shay’s cryptic directions to The Smoke with the purpose of betraying the rebels, or she will never be allowed to become pretty. Hoping to rescue Shay, Tally sets off on the dangerous journey as a spy. But after finally reaching The Smoke she has a change of heart when her new lover David reveals to her the sinister secret behind becoming pretty. The fast-moving story is enlivened by many action sequences in the style of videogames, using intriguing inventions like hoverboards that use the rider’s skateboard skills to skim through the air, and bungee jackets that make wild downward plunges survivable — and fun. Behind all the commotion is the disturbing vision of our own society — the Rusties — visible only in rusting ruins after a virus destroyed all petroleum. Teens will be entranced, and the cliffhanger ending will leave them gasping for the sequel.”

This one I read myself, and while it was slow starting, as I’m used to adult SF, I found it engaging, and as the book continued, the plot thickened, and I was left waiting to read the next book. My youngest daughter, now 14, loves these books, so much so that she dreads reading the third book because she knows the series may be ending with the fourth.

The Uglies

Twilight (trilogy) by Stephenie Meyer: ”

As Shakespeare knew, love burns high when thwarted by obstacles. In Twilight, an exquisite fantasy by Stephenie Meyer, readers discover a pair of lovers who are supremely star-crossed. Bella adores beautiful Edward, and he returns her love. But Edward is having a hard time controlling the blood lust she arouses in him, because–he’s a vampire. At any moment, the intensity of their passion could drive him to kill her, and he agonizes over the danger. But, Bella would rather be dead than part from Edward, so she risks her life to stay near him, and the novel burns with the erotic tension of their dangerous and necessarily chaste relationship.

Meyer has achieved quite a feat by making this scenario completely human and believable. She begins with a familiar YA premise (the new kid in school), and lulls us into thinking this will be just another realistic young adult novel. Bella has come to the small town of Forks on the gloomy Olympic Peninsula to be with her father. At school, she wonders about a group of five remarkably beautiful teens, who sit together in the cafeteria but never eat. As she grows to know, and then love, Edward, she learns their secret. They are all rescued vampires, part of a family headed by saintly Carlisle, who has inspired them to renounce human prey. For Edward’s sake they welcome Bella, but when a roving group of tracker vampires fixates on her, the family is drawn into a desperate pursuit to protect the fragile human in their midst. The precision and delicacy of Meyer’s writing lifts this wonderful novel beyond the limitations of the horror genre to a place among the best of YA fiction.”

Although I haven’t read this one, my oldest did and enjoyed it thoroughly. It is very popular amongst young to mid-teens.


See 1/19/08 post for the second part of this post – More Great Reads…, and other posts from different genres for pre-teens and teens.


3 responses to “Great reads for pre-teens and teens in SF/Fantasy

  1. Excellent suggestions! I’ll have to check out the second part of the post now, too… 😉

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