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Beyond the Stars: Sci-Fi YA Read-Alikes for Fans of The "5th Wave"

Science fiction has become the go-to genre for YA big screen adaptations, and the trend continues with The 5th Wave (PG-13), a motion picture based on Rick Yancey’s alien-invasion thriller (Putnam, 2013) that opens in theaters on January 22.

Earth has been laid to waste by a series of devastating extraterrestrial attacks, and Cassie Sullivan Chloë Grace Moretz), a desperate girl left on her own, is determined to find her younger brother before the next wave of destruction is unleashed.

Movie fans will rush to libraries in search of the source material along with its sequel, The Infinite Sea (2014). The Last Star, the final book in the trilogy, is scheduled for release in May 2016 (both Putnam). In the meantime, here is a selection of stellar sci-fi novels that provide high-octane action while probing the human condition.


Willful Machines
(Gr 9 Up). Tim Floreen’s Willful Machines is set in a near-future in which America faces a new threat: seven years ago, a being of artificial intelligence named Charlotte went rogue, uploaded her consciousness to the Supernet before her human-shaped fleshjacket body could be destroyed, and began operations as a virtual terrorist. It should be personal for Lee Fisher, 16, since his scientist mother was killed during the escape and his ultraconservative father is now president of the United States. However, Lee is busy enduring day-to-day life at his uptight boarding school, avoiding his Secret Service babysitters, and keeping his privacy—and “closetedness”—intact (it’s embarrassing enough that a not-so-long-age suicide attempt made national headlines). Then Nico Medina arrives at Inverness Prep, a new boy from Chile who does everything with confidence and easy élan, loves Shakespearean drama, and is downright hot (not just gorgeous, but unusually warm to the touch). Suddenly, Lee, one-time self-proclaimed loser, resolves that it just might be time to start taking some risks. However, the stakes become much higher when he discovers that he is the target of Charlotte’s latest attack, and that Nico might be involved in the plan. Told in a witty, self-deprecating, and endearingly honest first-person narration, this twist-turning novel blends fast-paced action, heartfelt romance, and personal discovery while wrestling with big questions about free will and what it means to be
human.

Passenger (Gr 9 Up). Two heart-rousing romances star heroines who discover that they have the ability to travel through time, a zeal for adventure, and the courage to fall in love. In Alexandra Bracken’s Passenger, first in a new series, violin soloist Etta Spencer, 17, is preparing to make an appearance at a fund-raising event in New York City when she unexpectedly awakens aboard a ship in 1776. She is shocked to discover that she is descended from a family of time travelers, and that Cyrus Ironwood, a power-hungry man determined to bring all of the travelers under his control and manipulate events to his advantage, is holding her mother responsible for the theft of an important astrolabe. Following clues left in letters and paintings, Etta must journey through different locales and eras to find the artifact. Tasked to accompany her is Nicholas Carter, a biracial freed slave and privateer who longs to be done with the Ironwoods and follow his dream of captaining his own ship. Rich details of time and place are interwoven into the century-spanning narrative, which switches back and forth in point of view between the main characters to reveal their differences in culture and perspective, as well as their increasingly steamy feelings for each other.

We Are the Ants (Gr 9 Up) Filled with heartbreak, hope, and wisecracking wit, Shaun David Hutchinson’s We Are the Ants is a thoughtful and revealing exploration of the meaning of life. “If the world were going to end, but you could stop it, would you?” This is much more than an angsty existential query for 16-year-old outsider Henry Denton. Since age 13, he has been repeatedly abducted by tentacled extraterrestrials, probed and poked, and returned (usually naked) to various locales throughout his Florida city. Now the sluggers (they look like slugs) have offered him the option of preventing Earth’s total annihilation by simply pressing a red button. However, Henry is just not sure the world is worth saving—he’s bullied at school (where he’s called Space Boy), unhappy at home (his chain-smoking mother is miserable, he worries about his nana’s worsening Alzheimer’s, and he doesn’t even want to think about why his father split long ago), and he’s still reeling from the suicide of his boyfriend. Henry’s dilemma is conveyed in a genuine, often wry, first-person narrative that candidly explores his experiences and relationships. All of the characters are complex and interesting, including the popular jock who derides Henry in public but hooks up with him in private, his jerk of an older brother’s impressively wise girlfriend, and the new boy (and possible love interest) at school with a mysterious past and eye-opening viewpoint.

On the Edge of Gone (Gr 8 Up). With a comet scheduled to hit on January 29, 2035, the world as we know it is On the Edge of Gone. Sixteen-year-old Denise, her transgender older sister Iris, and their mother have been assigned to a short-term shelter near their Amsterdam apartment (their black Surinamese father had returned home and won a spot in a permanent shelter there), but impact is imminent and Iris is nowhere to be found. Though running late, Denise and her mother stop to help a person in need and are granted temporary haven aboard the Nassau, a top-secret generation spaceship scheduled to depart after the collision. Destined to colonize far-away planets, the vessel’s limited spots have already been filled with people carefully chosen for their expertise and usefulness. With Earth in ruins around her and the very survival of humanity in question, Denise is determined to earn a place onboard for herself and her family and hope for some kind of a future. However, her autism often makes it difficult to communicate with others, her mother’s drug habit is difficult to keep hidden, and her sister is still missing. In addition to featuring a cast of refreshingly diverse characters, Corinne Duyvis’s gripping adventure incorporates coming-of-age themes of gaining self-knowledge and independence and raises important questions about the complexity of family bonds, human resiliency in the face of tragedy, and how we value life.

Bluescreen (Gr 8 Up). It’s 2050 in Los Angeles, and almost everyone has a djinni—or smart device—a brain implant that allows access to email, live video feeds, news forums, and more with a blink of the eye. Marisa Carneseca, 17, a talented hacker, spends much of her time online, mostly playing a virtual reality game with her pals across the globe. Though shifts in the economy have left much of the city destitute, Mari’s Mexican-American family lives in El Mirador, a still-bustling mid-sized barrio where business owners like her parents pay a local gang lord for protection. When her wealthy friend Anja tries Bluescreen, plugging the virtual drug directly into her djinni to create a supposedly biologically safe high, something goes horribly wrong. With Anja still in jeopardy and use of the rich-kid drug spreading like wildfire, Mari and her friends are determined to discover the origins of Bluescreen and get it off the streets, but the truth is buried deep and finding it fraught with danger. Mari will have to brave the shadowy secrets of the darknet, powerful machinations of corporate conspiracy, and gun-shooting gang warfare to survive. The first in the “Mirador” series, Dan Wells’s cyber thriller features a crisply constructed high-tech world, a cast of well-developed diverse characters, and a serpentine mystery propelled by rapid-fire action.

Zeroes (Gr 9 Up). Six California teens, all born in the year 2000, discover that they have unique supernatural powers: otherwise unnoticeable Ethan (aka Scam) possesses an apparently all-knowing and uncontrollable voice that spouts whatever is necessary to get him what he wants (it usually backfires); Riley (Flicker), sister to a powerless twin, is blind, but she can see through the eyes of others; Chizara (Crash) can smash any technology merely by thinking about it (the feeling is dangerously intoxicating); Thibault (Anonymous) is infinitely forgettable (even by his own family); Nate (Bellwether), nicknamed Glorious Leader by Flicker, can control and unite small groups with his charisma; and Kelsie (Mob), latecomer to the group and daughter of a conman, can manipulate the mood of a crowd. Calling themselves the Zeroes, the original five had been meeting regularly—coming up with code names, learning about one another and their abilities, and training as a crime-fighting unit—until Scam’s voice mouthed off and drove them away. Now Scam is in trouble, and the team reluctantly reunites to battle a mob boss, ultimately discovering that despite their squabbles and differences, they are strongest together. This series opener with a multicultural cast zings with quirky characters, cinematic-style action, and a powerful message about friendship.


Authors/Titles Mentioned (Click on the title to place it on hold at the library.)
BRACKEN, Alexandra. Passenger.
DUYVIS, Corinne. On the Edge of Gone.
FLOREEN, Tim. Willful Machines.
HUTCHINSON, Shaun David. We Are the Ants.
WELLS, Dan. Bluescreen.
WESTERFELD, Scott, Margo Lanagan, & Deborah Biancotti. Zeroes.


Additional Reads (Click on the title to place it on hold at the library.)
SKRUTSKIE, Emily. The Abyss Surrounds Us.
STRASSER, Todd. The Beast of Cretacea.
TAYLOR, Janet. B. Into the Dim.

Content courtesy School Library Journal










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