The best middle-grade sci fi – with bonus aliens

The Books I Picked & Why

Bloom

By Kenneth Oppel

Book cover of Bloom

Why this book?

Bloom is the first book in the Overthrow Series. A strange rain drops seeds, and as creepy vines grow and release pollen, everybody is allergic – except a small group of teens. As the alien plants turn carnivorous, our protagonists have to figure out their role amid world-shattering events. The plot roars along, while also seeding provocative questions about technology, ethics, and what it means to be human.

Kenneth Oppel is a master plotter, and this book is an excellent introduction to his work if you aren’t already a fan. All his books are favorites in our house.

The Aliens: No spoilers here. This is a plot twist that will make you gasp out loud.


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Dragon Pearl

By Yoon Ha Lee

Book cover of Dragon Pearl

Why this book?

This epic space adventure blends science fiction, fantasy, and Korean folklore. Min, a fox spirit with shape-shifting powers, raised on a poverty-stricken planet, is a clever and lively protagonist. She sneaks onto a star-cruiser, borrowing the form of a dead cadet, to go in search of her missing brother, and gets caught up in a quest for the legendary Dragon Pearl. 

There is some truly beautiful writing here, but what I loved most was the complexity of the world-building. This is an epic space opera in the best sense.

The Aliens: I’m cheating a bit – are they all aliens? This is set in other worlds, and some people have magic powers. I’m going with All Of Them Are Aliens, and also: Alien Ghosts! What more could you want?


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Jillian VS Parasite Planet

By Nicole Kornher-Stace, Scott Brown

Book cover of Jillian VS Parasite Planet

Why this book?

On Take Your Kid To Work Day, Jillian is thrilled that she gets to go to space with her parents. The routine trip goes terribly wrong, their shuttle crashes, and Jillian has to figure out how to survive – and save her injured parents – with only her own ingenuity and the help of a sarcastic, TV-loving AI nanobot swarm called SABRINA. 

The bantering Jillian-Sabrina relationship is the highlight of the book, and Jillian is a pitch-perfect MG protagonist. It was a delight to read about a super anxious kid solving problems in the absolute worst of situations. 

The Aliens: Primarily, a very creepy parasite – but the descriptions and fictional-science behind all the various life forms on the planet are fantastic.


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The True Meaning of Smekday

By Adam Rex

Book cover of The True Meaning of Smekday

Why this book?

I haven’t seen the 2015 animated movie Home, which is based on The True Meaning of Smekday, but my kids assure me that the book is better. The world is taken over by aliens in the opening chapters, and protagonist Gratuity (“Tip”) teams up with a rogue Boov who has named himself J.Lo, figuring that’s a common Earth name, to find her missing mother. The plot zig zags across the country and is full of clever twists and turns.

Tip’s voice, and the relationship between Tip and J.Lo, give the book its real charm. This is an often hilarious read, with stakes that feel real and weighty.

The Aliens: There are many, and they come in many flavors: funny, scary, brutal, BFF material…


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Last Gate of the Emperor

By Kwame Mbalia, Prince Joel Makonnen

Book cover of Last Gate of the Emperor

Why this book?

Funny and fast-paced, this story of a boy and his bionic cat will charm avid sci-fi fans and reluctant readers alike. Did I mention the bionic cat? Besa is the star, as far as I’m concerned. Protagonist Yared skips school (with his bionic cat!) to take part in an augmented reality tournament and finds himself at the center of a massive galactic war. Intricate world-building influenced by Ethiopian legend, a tight plot, and an engaging lead trio (including: bionic cat!) make this a delightful read. 

I loved Yared’s voice! Few readers will be able to resist his charm and humor. I certainly couldn’t.

The Aliens: The Werari – terrifying golden-eyed alien invaders with a bionic monster, the Bulgu.


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