The best sci-fi (and one non sci-fi) books for young adults

The Books I Picked & Why

The Electric Kingdom

By David Arnold

Book cover of The Electric Kingdom

Why this book?

David Arnold's The Electric Kingdom is a beautifully written narrative imbued with love, tragedy, fear, and hope. It is a brilliant love letter to storytelling – a novel that cleverly subverts dystopian conventions and instead paints a wholly original painting of something deeply affecting and inspiring.

I don't want to mention any plot points at all for fear of giving too much away (the official synopsis should be more than enough to hook you). I will say this: I read the entire second half of the book in one sitting. His characters are fully realized—the secrets and tension always growing in a slow burn.

Arnold masterfully connects all his story elements in a riveting third act. And, once I came to the end, I found the book had changed me in subtle ways—as all the greats do.

I cannot recommend TEK enough. Arnold has written what is nothing short of a masterpiece; this book will be discussed for many years to come.

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House of Stairs

By William Sleator

Book cover of House of Stairs

Why this book?

William Sleator’s House of Stairs is the kind of intense read that you blow through in one sitting. I knew little to nothing about the plot when a dear friend recommended the title—in fact, I’d never even heard of the author or his works before receiving the book as a gift!

But now I cannot recommend this book (or Sleator) enough. It’s a dystopian tale that’s equal parts phycological thriller and sci-fi mystery that (mostly) takes place in one setting. The five protagonists are multi-dimensional, layered teenagers with very strong voices. I don’t want to give too much away; I’ll say that the characters’ journey into madness—and the gut-wrenching ending—make this necessary reading for any fans of character-driven sci-fi books.

I cannot recommend it enough.

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By Brandon Sanderson

Book cover of Skyward

Why this book?

Brandon Sanderson is one of the most prolific writers working today. He’s also my single biggest source of inspiration as an author. He’s written everything from massive, tome-sized fantasy epics for adults to middle grade action-adventure.

With Skyward, a YA space opera set in the far future on an alien planet, Sanderson is having a total blast. You truly cannot turn the pages fast enough. Our heroine, Spensa, wants nothing more than to be a pilot, like her disgraced father (who was branded a coward after inexplicably turning on his flight mates). You see, for Spensa, getting enrolled into flight school and becoming a pilot isn’t just about joining the war against the Krell—it’s about clearing her father’s name and fighting for her family’s legacy.

The book tackles many themes that young readers will resonate with. But, more importantly, the action’s relentless and it’s a quick, satisfying series opener.

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Ender's Game

By Orson Scott Card

Book cover of Ender's Game

Why this book?

While the premise of Ender’s Game may sound or feel familiar to the title I previously mentioned, the books are markedly different from one another. 

In Ender’s Game, Andrew “Ender” Wiggin is recruited by Colonel Graff to participate in a militaristic simulation amid a sweeping war. He and his fellow recruits are put through intense training, which includes engaging in a highly-competitive, zero-gravity game.

What’s so brilliant about this influential book is that it tackles a myriad of coming-of-age themes set against impossible stakes. My favorite authors do this so well, and I count Orson Scott Card among the very best. As the reader, you’ll never feel as if Card doesn’t have a handle on the plot—he’s in complete control.

It’s also one of only a handful of books where I cried at the close. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more definitive book in my favorite sub-genre.

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Looking for Alaska

By John Green

Book cover of Looking for Alaska

Why this book?

John Green’s perennial bestseller is at once hilarious, engaging, and tragic. It’s the kind of unputdownable book that changes and affects you immediately.

I only recently read LFA because the Hulu show by the creators of “The OC” really impressed me. While I do wish I’d read the book prior to watching the adaptation, it was very interesting diving into the book and experiencing the narrative through the lens of the TV show’s cast and creative additions.

That said, I would highly recommend reading before viewing the show. The expert pacing, hilarious dialogue, and wonderful prose make this one very engrossing read.

There’s a reason many writers—myself included—cite this book as heavily influential.

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