YA Speculative Series for the Summer
Are you or someone you know a voracious YA fantasy or sci-fi reader? Perhaps both? Then I have recommendations for completed YA speculative fiction series that will keep you reading all summer!
Fonda Lee is best known for the excellent Green Bone Saga, an epic urban fantasy set in a city steeped in magic reminiscent of Hong Kong. The EXO Duology represents Lee's YA work, which she wrote before penning the more mature Green Bone novels.
On the surface, the EXO books tell a typical sci-fi story of humanity conquered by a more advanced alien species. But look a little deeper, and you'll find a nuanced story with multifaceted characters.
Donovan, the protagonist, lives a life of privilege as the son of a prominent political figure loyal to the aliens. He serves in the defense force as an armored trooper, so he spends his time hunting down and neutralizing human terrorist cells. Soon he finds his loyalty tested by his love for his mother, his attraction to a terrorist, and his bone-deep devotion to his fellow troopers and their alien masters.
Adolescents looking for a nuanced take on sci-fi's alien conquest trope will find these novels engrossing from beginning to end.
Unstoppable by Charlie Jane Anders is one of the most memorable space operas I've ever read. The trilogy starts with Victories Greater than Death, a novel chockful of inclusion, identity, and diversity themes. Best of all, Anders includes all these themes without sacrificing an iota of sci-fi suave.
The series continues going full bore with Dreams Bigger than Heartbreak. The concluding novel, Promises Stronger than Darkness, is weaker than its predecessors, but that doesn't mean the story is a slouch. Indeed, the third novel provides a highly satisfying conclusion to the trilogy and solidifies Morant as a sci-fi villain for the ages with his sincere desire to commit genocide and to sour the universe's collective memory of those he kills.
Adolescent readers, especially those interested in inclusion and identity, will find Unstoppable an affirming and wild read. In a small way, I altered my behavior after reading these books. The characters, especially the aliens, often identify themselves in conversation by their preferred pronouns. At first, reading this constant declaration of pronouns was somewhat awkward, but I soon found myself not minding it. In fact, it told me something about the character, even if that character was a fire-breathing rock. In my day job, I decided to include my preferred pronouns in my email signature. This is never something I never felt the need to do before. After reading these novels, I decided that such a small gesture costs me nothing and is worth doing if it makes society a little more inclusive or someone feels more comfortable during their workday.
Most appropriately, this series is, in fact, two duologies that take place in the same Victorian-esque secondary world and have loosely related characters. The first two books, Seraphina and Shadow Scale follow Seraphina on a journey of self-discovery and acceptance as she works to unravel a plot that may bring disaster to the kingdom. Themes of self-acceptance, feminism, diversity, and music run through these books. Musically inclined adolescents interested in fantastical tales featuring dragons and other mythical creatures will find these stories immersive. This duology is perfect for mature middle school readers and up.
Tess of the Road and In The Serpent's Wake follow Seraphina's half-sister Tess as she goes on a journey of self-discovery and acceptance while recovering from life-altering trauma. Tess's character arc is terrific. She begins the first book as a self-absorbed, broken girl who is not very likable. By the end of the second book, she is a mature young woman who has freed herself from the chains of her past and is ready to live her life on her terms. Themes of feminism, diversity, environmentalism, and social justice run through this duology. The books are heavier than their predecessors, and some content is probably too mature for younger YA readers. However, high school-aged teens and up will find Tess's fantastical travelogues challenging to put down.
Do you have a favorite YA series? Drop the name in the comments. I'd like to read it!