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

Who am I?

I’ve been a creative writer for over a decade, and I always tell people that writers are readers first. As such, I’ve been in love with both young adult and sci-fi books since I was a kid. Fittingly, my debut book is science fiction for young readers. I believe this sub-genre has so much to offer. The really good, memorable books use high-concept ideas or conflict as a vehicle for exploring compelling, relatable themes. I have always believed that’s the best way to approach writing sci-fi. And, with The Memory Index, I took this approach to heart.

I wrote...

The Memory Index

By Julian R. Vaca,

Book cover of The Memory Index

What is my book about?

The Memory Index is a 1980s-set sci-fi mystery. The world is ravaged by Memory Killer—an enigmatic plague that’s created the need for artificial recall. A billion-dollar corporation claims to have created groundbreaking tech that will mark a significant victory in mankind’s battle with memory loss. 500 students are randomly selected to trial the tech at a boarding school. But when Freya (a seventeen-year-old orphan who grapples with inexplicable half-memories) arrives on campus, she and her new friends begin to notice that students are disappearing in the night. What Freya discovers in the woods behind campus will challenge everything she’s ever been told about memory loss.

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The books I picked & why

The Electric Kingdom

By David Arnold,

Book cover of The Electric Kingdom

Why did I love 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.

By David Arnold,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Electric Kingdom as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

New York Times bestseller David Arnold's most ambitious novel to date; Station Eleven meets The 5th Wave in a genre-smashing story of survival, hope, and love amid a ravaged earth.

When a deadly Fly Flu sweeps the globe, it leaves a shell of the world that once was. Among the survivors are eighteen-year-old Nico and her dog, on a voyage devised by Nico's father to find a mythical portal; a young artist named Kit, raised in an old abandoned cinema; and the enigmatic Deliverer, who lives Life after Life in an attempt to put the world back together. As swarms…

House of Stairs

By William Sleator,

Book cover of House of Stairs

Why did I love 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.

By William Sleator,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked House of Stairs as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This chilling, suspenseful indictment of mind control is a classic of science fiction and will haunt readers long after the last page is turned.

One by one, five sixteen-year-old orphans are brought to a strange building. It is not a prison, not a hospital; it has no walls, no ceiling, no floor. Nothing but endless flights of stairs leading nowhere--except back to a strange red machine. The five must learn to love the machine and let it rule their lives. But will they let it kill their souls?  

"An intensely suspenseful page-turner." --School Library Journal

"A riveting suspense novel with…


By Brandon Sanderson,

Book cover of Skyward

Why did I love 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.

By Brandon Sanderson,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Skyward as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Spensa's world has been under attack for hundreds of years. An alien race called the Krell leads onslaught after onslaught from the sky in a never-ending campaign to destroy humankind. Humanity's only defense is to take to their ships and fight the enemy in the skies. Pilots have become the heroes of what's left of the human race.

Spensa has always dreamed of being one of them; of soaring above Earth and proving her bravery. But her fate is intertwined with her father's - a pilot who was killed years ago when he abruptly deserted his team, placing Spensa's chances…

Ender's Game

By Orson Scott Card,

Book cover of Ender's Game

Why did I love 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.

By Orson Scott Card,

Why should I read it?

12 authors picked Ender's Game as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Orson Scott Card's science fiction classic Ender's Game is the winner of the 1985 Nebula Award for Best Novel and the 1986 Hugo Award for Best Novel.

In order to develop a secure defense against a hostile alien race's next attack, government agencies breed child geniuses and train them as soldiers. A brilliant young boy, Andrew "Ender" Wiggin lives with his kind but distant parents, his sadistic brother Peter, and the person he loves more than anyone else, his sister Valentine. Peter and Valentine were candidates for the soldier-training program but didn't make the cut―young Ender is the Wiggin drafted…

Looking for Alaska

By John Green,

Book cover of Looking for Alaska

Why did I love 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.

By John Green,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Looking for Alaska as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The award-winning, genre-defining debut from John Green, the #1 bestselling author of The Anthropocene Reviewed and The Fault in Our Stars

Winner of the Michael L. Printz Award • A Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalist • A New York Times Bestseller • A USA Today Bestseller • NPR’s Top Ten Best-Ever Teen Novels • TIME magazine’s 100 Best Young Adult Novels of All Time • A PBS Great American Read Selection • Millions of copies sold!

First drink. First prank. First friend. First love.

Last words.

Miles Halter is fascinated by famous last words—and tired of his safe life…

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