[GUEST POST] Courtney Schafer on Voices Not Forgotten (6 Underrated Young Adult Novels You Should Know About)
Courtney Schafer‘s impatience while waiting for new SF books to hit the shelves used to drive her crazy, until she realized she could write her own stories to satisfy her craving for worlds full of wonder and adventure. Her debut fantasy novel The Whitefire Crossing releases August 1 from Night Shade Books. When not writing, Courtney figure skates, climbs 14,000 foot peaks, squeezes through Utah slot canyons, and skis way too fast through trees. To support her adrenaline-fueled hobbies and writing habit, she received a degree in electrical engineering from Caltech and now works in the aerospace industry. Visit her at http://www.courtneyschafer.com.
After reading the discussion of the Russ Pledge here on SF Signal back in June, and then Judith Tarr’s fascinating and dismaying follow-up post relating her experiences in the publishing industry (Girl Cooties: A Personal History), I got to thinking about all the excellent YA SF novels written by women that I read as a girl in the 1980s/1990s. Novels that sparked my imagination, broadened my horizons, and helped make me an SF fan for life – and yet aren’t mentioned very often these days.
Sure, some female authors I loved in childhood remain household names amongst SF fans: Madeleine L’Engle, Diana Wynne Jones, Jane Yolen, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Anne McCaffrey, and Patricia McKillip, for example. But theirs weren’t the only books I read and re-read until they were dogeared and falling apart. So I want to shout out some love to a few more women whose books meant the world to me; to say, hey, ladies: your voices were heard, and made a difference.
And if you know a kid who’s already read more modern middle-grade and YA SF books like Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games trilogy, Catherine Fisher’s Incarceron, or Jeanne DuPrau’s The Books of Ember and is hungry for more – why not suggest they give one of these classics a try?
Eleven-year-old Amy has spent her whole life in the endless decaying corridors and roach-infested apartments of the City. Flagged as a troublemaker by the Watchers because she knows how to read, she does her best to act dull and incurious like the other children in her learning center. But she dreams of a world Outside, even though the authorities insist there is nothing beyond the City but a polluted wasteland with air too toxic to breathe. She suspects life would be easier if she were crazy, like the boy Axel, who rocks and sings to himself to block out the grim reality of the learning center. But when Axel tells her that he came from Outside and it’s not at all like the authorities claim, Amy convinces him to escape with her, determined to find out if his story is true.
This Time of Darkness might’ve been the first true dystopian SF I read as a kid, and the chilling imagery of Hoover’s underground City has always stuck with me. She wrote a wonderful protagonist in Amy, who’s both clever and fiercely determined – and in a refreshing change from a lot of early-80s YA SF, Amy is the strong, resourceful character who saves the boy Axel, not the other way around. This one’s particularly recommended for kids who like the Ember books.
When the starliner Sky Rider collides with an asteroid, 1200 passengers are killed, leaving only six young survivors: Glyn, the gruff and ambitious ship’s steward escaping a life of poverty; Sonya, the arrogant rich girl; Ann, who suffers from near-crippling fear and shyness; Matthew, whose kindness conceals a temper; willful toddler Caroline, and helpless baby Benjamin. Now they’re trapped together aboard Life Ferry B, headed on a deadly course straight for Jupiter; and worse, they’ve started seeing lights and hearing music where there should be none.
Louise Lawrence is a terrific writer. Calling B for Butterfly has vivid imagery and nail-biting tension, but the real stars of the story are Lawrence’s characters. The reactions and personalities of the kids feel totally real, and Lawrence doesn’t shy away from their flaws, or the harsh realities of their situation. The ending is beautifully unexpected, too; though the book stands well enough on its own, I’ve always wished Lawrence had written a sequel. (She did write a whole host of other YA science fiction novels, all well worth reading.)
Katie Welker is used to being alone. She would rather read a book than deal with other people. Other people don’t have silver eyes, and other people can’t make things happen just by thinking about them. Katie knows she’s different, but she’s never tried to hurt anyone. But when she hears neighbors blaming her for her beloved grandmother’s death, and a strange man comes around asking far too many questions, Katie becomes determined to find out if she’s the only one of her kind. Maybe there are other kids out there who have the same silver eyes and strange talents – and maybe they’ll be willing to help her.
The tale of the lonely, different child who finds acceptance never goes out of style, and for good reason. For any kid who feels isolated and outcast from their peer group, a book like The Girl with the Silver Eyes is welcome as rain in the desert. There’s nothing more powerful than hearing the message that it’s okay to be different, and no matter how alone you feel, the isolation doesn’t have to last forever.
When a starship screams overhead leaving a strange, empty-eyed boy abandoned in its wake, young Khira of the planet Brakrath is eager to solve the mystery he poses. She names him Darkchild and teaches him her language and the ways of her culture, seeking to awaken his lost memories, unaware that her kindness will lead to her people’s destruction. Darkchild is an unwitting spy for the Rauthfleet, who intend to auction his knowledge of Brakrath’s resources and defenses to the highest bidder. As Darkchild grows closer to Khira, he begins to suspect the alien programming lurking hidden in his mind…but will he and Khira discover the truth in time to save her world?
I don’t think Darkchild was necessarily intended as a YA novel, but in my library it was shelved in the children’s section (presumably because it had two children as protagonists). And as a kid, I was fascinated both by Scyoc’s detailed worldbuilding (the Brakrathi have made some very interesting genetic adaptations to survive on their planet), and the idea of a brainwiped child being the perfect spy for an invasion force. Scyoc uses the division between Darkchild’s primary personality and the lurking “guide” within his mind to explore the question of identity, with fascinating (and sometimes surprising) results.
They see visions invisible to men. They are the children of Ynell, a secret race who possess a psychic and prophetic vision. A vision that allows them to see the future, and endows them with the power to change the fate of their war-torn planet. But their sight is a forbidden power, punishable by death. So they are hunted, and forced to gather at the nest of their power, the place where their destinies are one.
Like Anne McCaffrey’s Pern novels, Shirley Rousseau Murphy’s Children of Ynell series is a blending of science fiction and fantasy. The novels take place on another planet, but the society has regressed into medievalism, and the story involves flying horses and runestones alongside psychic gifts and militaristic authorities. The Ring of Fire is another classic category of story: gifted teenagers rebelling against an oppressive society and fighting for the chance to live in freedom. Murphy’s imagination and characters make her novels memorable among the ranks of others with similar themes.
I am Owl. It is my name as well as my nature. By night I seek my living in owl shape, among the fields and woods surrounding my home. By day I am an ordinary girl (more or less) attending the local high school. I am no vampire in a fairy tale, to be ruled by the sun and moon; I can shift to either shape at any time of night and day. My mother and father are not shapeshifters. They are simple witches, dabbling in such little arts as they can command: weather, prophecy, herbal healing. They are the best and kindest parents to me. I grieve to think how they suffer now because of my sufferings…
In this post I’ve primarily focused on novels on the science fiction end of the spectrum as opposed to fantasy, so you might wonder why I include a book about a teenage were-owl with witches for parents. The reason is simple: Owl in Love has one of the best examples I’ve ever seen in YA of a protagonist who embodies a truly alien mindset, in the classic SF tradition. Owl isn’t a girl who can turn herself into an owl; she’s an owl who can turn into a girl. She mimics ordinary human behavior, but her instincts and her priorities remain sharply different than a human’s. Patrice Kindl writes Owl’s narrative voice with a dry wit that makes certain scenes deliciously funny, others haunting.
After devouring books like these, I moved straight on to the adult SF&F shelves, and authors like C.J. Cherryh, Catherine Asaro, Nancy Kress, Octavia Butler, Julian May, and Lois McMaster Bujold. But to discuss all the myriad female SF authors I’ve loved as an adult would grow this post to truly gargantuan length – it was hard enough to choose only a few of the wonderful YA authors I’ve loved. Authors like Pamela Sargent (whose 1983 YA SF novel Earthseed was re-released this year and is being adapted for Hollywood), Jane Louise Curry, and many more deserve just as much recognition for inspiring new generations of SF fans and writers. So if you’ve an author you’d like to thank, please mention them in the comments!
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