Never Trust a Label: 5 Sci-Fi/Fantasy Must Reads in the “Young Adult” or “Children’s” Section

Don’t pay attention to where you find good books in the library or book store.  If it’s interesting to you, pick it up.  I say this because I read a lot of what is labeled “young adult” or “children’s” fiction.  It irks me to no end that in most cases (unless you’re Orson Scott Card), if you write a child or teen protagonist, the publishing world insists you must have written a book for younger readers.  Most young adult books are as well written or better than so called “adult” fiction.  They deliver an intriguing story with just the right amount of edginess.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m no prude: I’ve read Game of Thrones, but I usually prefer something a little less gray shaded.  Over the years I’ve found a few novels that I would consider a must read for any fan of the sci-fi/fantasy genre.  And yes, they are in that not-so-tame-as-you’d-think place called the “young adult” or possibly even (gasp) the “children’s” section.

1. The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor

The first in a trilogy set in an alternate dimension called Wonderland, Wars tells a Steampunk-esque tale of Alyss, the royal princess and her fight to regain control of the world from her evil aunt Redd.  Beddor takes the tropes of Wonderland and turns them on their head with characters like Hatter Madigan, a bodyguard with a weaponized top hat, The Cat a killer assassin and the lonely young author named Lewis whom Alyss meets in an interdimensional journey to Victorian England.  Book two is called Seeing Redd and book three is Arch Enemy.

2. Airborn by Kenneth Oppel

Another trilogy frontrunner, Airborn is a refreshing alternative history adventure.  We follow the journey of Matt Cruse, a young Airship deckhand, a Steampunk Indiana Jones who is riding the Aurora, Titanic of the airways.  This fateful voyage is unassuming fun, a pirate romp through the high skies with just enough saucy heroine Kate de Vries to keep things a bit romantic.   If you have any kind of soft spot for dirigibles, this is a story for you.  Book two is called Skybreaker and three is Starclimber, both equally as entertaining.

3. The Neverending Story by Michael Ende, translated by Ralph Manheim

If you’ve seen the movie it doesn’t matter.  You don’t know this story until you’ve read it.  Translated from German, the book behind the cult 80’s classic is the book that made me want to be a writer.  Ende creates a more imagined and complex fantasy world rich with creatures and places that seem to exist.  This is because his descriptive writing is tantalizing and his imagination, boundless.  In the book we follow Bastian, an insecure lad who finds his way into a story where he becomes a hero.  Only, it doesn’t end there.  In fact, his journey into Fantastica (not the Fantasia of the movie) has just begun and so the reader enters a world like no other where deserts grow into forests at night and The Nothing is destroying everything.  I chose this book by its cover and I’m not sorry I did.

4. Brave Story by Miyuke Miyabe, translated by Alexander O. Smith

There seems to be a connection between richly imagined worlds and other languages; this time, from a Japanese wordsmith.  I liked this book because it reminded me of The Neverending Story but was its own richly complicated and sumptuously imagined universe.  It was made into an anime but I always prefer the source material.

When Wataru finds himself inexplicably sucked into another world called Vision, he wants to make a better life.  Let’s face it, his life at home in Japan sucks.  His mother has attempted suicide after his father leaves them and for Wataru, life has become meaningless.  But, if he completes his journey through Vision, Wataru may have the chance to change his fate.

5. Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

I could recommend almost everything by Diana Wynne Jones and you would thank me.  However, the apex of her quirky hand is found in this novel, which is why Hayao Miyazaki had great source material for his anime take on it.  Howl’s Moving Castle is charming.  Jones writes with such a refreshing voice and creates a seamless fantasy world replete with loveable fire demons and mystic portals to places readers will find familiar.  The complex and engaging plot has led me to read this novel several times and never be bored.  I’m about due for another trip through Jones’s strange and wonderful world.

Have any recommendations for a must read?  Comment below. 


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