Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Take 5: Teens as Sci Fi Soldiers(ish) – When YA Lit meets The Bourne Identity or Red Dawn (or even 12 Monkeys)

When we read The Hunger Games, we like to think to ourselves that we know that would never happen – who sends kids out to kill? But the truth is, there are countries all over the world where children are in fact forced to become soldiers and fight for causes they know little about and are forced to serve at the whims of adults. But it can’t happen HERE we say – but what if it could? What if it did? Here’s a look at some cool science fiction stories where teens are manipulated by adults to become soldiers or mercenaries of some kind. They’re pretty cool books to read, but they also make us a little bit uncomfortable because we would like to think there is no possible way it could happen . . . but the truth is sometimes people in power will go to great lengths to keep that power. Like all good science fiction, these titles create absurd sounding scenarios to make us think about real world truths. And these titles ask us to think about things like free will and determination, nature vs. nurture, the role of government in our lives, and what lengths we are (and should be) willing to go to in order to keep ourselves – our country – safe.

I Become Shadow by Joe Shine
“Ren Sharpe was abducted at fourteen and chosen by the mysterious F.A.T.E. Center to become a Shadow: the fearless and unstoppable guardian of a future leader. Everything she held dear—her family, her home, her former life—is gone forever.” (Publisher’s description)

As an action/thriller, this is a fun story. There is a lot of interesting subtext about free will. I was surprised by some of the decisions characters made at the end, which would make for some great discussions. There is also some very interesting subtext about addiction that could make for great discussion. And of course it asks the age old question: what lengths should we go to in order to protect our future. This is an interesting read.


Uninvited by Sophie Jordan
When Davy Hamilton’s tests come back positive for Homicidal Tendency Syndrome (HTS)-aka the kill gene-she loses everything. Her boyfriend ditches her, her parents are scared of her, and she can forget about her bright future at Julliard. Davy doesn’t feel any different, but genes don’t lie. One day she will kill someone.”

I really like this book a lot. Because they fear she MIGHT in the future become violent, Davy is removed from her normal life and put in a situation with people who are in fact very violent. This is a look at the age old nature vs. nurture argument. It is also an interesting discussion about the prison system as every day we see minor offenders placed into jail who then become more violent offenders because they are forced to try and survive in the prison environment. And then there are some twists that make this book fit the list but I’m not going to elaborate. Just take my advice and read this book, it’s really good. The next book, Unleashed, comes out in February 2015 from Harper Teen. 

Tabula Rasa by Kristen Lippert-Martin
“Sixteen-year-old Sarah has a rare chance at a new life. Or so the doctors tell her. She’s been undergoing a cutting-edge procedure that will render her a tabula rasa—a blank slate. Memory by memory her troubled past is being taken away.” (Publisher’s description)

In my review earlier this month I note that there are a couple of flaws with this book, but in terms of readability it is a lot of fun. The tagline itself describes Tabula Rasa as The Bourne Identity meets Divergent. There are, once again, lots of interesting discussions to be had about science ethics, free will and autonomy, and the role that adults can play in the lives of teens. High on readability and survival, it’s a good read.

Blackout by Robison Wells
“Laura and Alec are trained terrorists.
Jack and Aubrey are high school students.
There was no reason for them to ever meet.

(Publisher’s description)

This is one of those books I really would have liked to have seen get more love; it is really under-rated. It’s got your post-apocalyptic virus plague scenario, a dystopian government, some X-men like superpowers, teens conscripted into government service, and a dash of terrorism mixed in to make it an almost perfect reflection of modern fears. In my earlier review I said, “Blackout definitely excels as a thriller.  I highly recommend this book.” So let’s give this book the love it deserves.

Reboot by Amy Tintera
“Five years ago, Wren Connolly was shot three times in the chest. After 178 minutes she came back as a Reboot: stronger, faster, able to heal, and less emotional. The longer Reboots are dead, the less human they are when they return. Wren 178 is the deadliest Reboot in the Republic of Texas. Now seventeen years old, she serves as a soldier for HARC (Human Advancement and Repopulation Corporation).” (Publisher’s description)

Teens who are essentially “zombies” – though definitely not traditional zombies – are stripped of their rights and forced to serve as a government clean up crew to help protect the remaining humans from those that reboot. This is another one of those titles that I want to see get more love because it is such an interesting twist on zombies and is a compelling metaphor for discrimination, something we’re talking a lot about these days. What makes us human and does one group of people’s rights trump those of another? Like all good sci fi, this can be read on multiple levels and can lead to some interesting discussions. Read my earlier review here. The sequel Rebel is out now for your reading pleasure.

Blackout by Robison Wells and How I Learned to Question What Teens Are Learning About the Government

Two interesting things happened last month: I read Blackout by Robison Wells and we learned that the NSA is getting access to a large amount of data about ordinary American citizens.  And this past week, Salon has been running a series of articles about militant police forces.  These combination of events really made me wonder:  Will teens today even know to question these type of revelations and wonder why they should be concerned?

Laura and Alec are trained terrorists.

Jack and Aubrey are high school students.

There was no reason for them to ever meet.

But now, a mysterious virus is spreading throughout America, infecting teenagers with impossible powers. And these four are about to find their lives intertwined in a complex web of deception, loyalty, and catastrophic danger—where one wrong choice could trigger an explosion that ends it all. (Goodreads)

Teens today are living in a post 9/11 world.  The youngest of teens will now never remember that you could go wait with your friends at the airline terminal, that you could keep your shoes on and not be x-rayed by strangers just to get past security.  They will never know what it was like not to have an easily tracked cell phone (actually, our poorer teens will, but that is an entirely different issue).  They will never know what it is like not to have a camera on every store front where their progress simply walking down a street can simply and quickly be retraced.  Which is why we need books not only like Fahrenheit 451 and 1984, but books like Blackout by Robison Wells.

In Blackout, a virus causes genetic mutations that cause teens to develop “powers”.  Some of the teens are used by a terrorist group to attack the United States so the military swoops in and takes all of the teens to what are basically internment camps. In these camps the teens are tested to see if they have powers and basically logged into a military database.  The government then tries to recruit those teens that test positive to help them fight the war against the terrorists.  The only way to fight terrorist teens with super powers is to recruit other terrorist teens with super powers.  So teens that do have powers are not truly as free as those teens that do no have powers.  And all teens must wear a bracelet to show that they have been tested.  And yes, there is a lot of symbolism that will bring to mind things like World War II and the Jewish Holocaust, though there are definitely some unique twists here.

Blackout is a really interesting book.  And it is thrilling.  But as I read it I thought, would teens today even question it if the government came in and rounded them all up as they do in this book?  Which is one of the reasons why teens need to be reading books like this.  One of the best things about Science Fiction is how it can make us think about the things happening in our world by creating an abstract version of the world that challenges our current beliefs.  We can read The Hunger Games so voraciously in part because there is a part of us that can see our world headed in that direction.  It is the same for Blackout.  Sure, there is probably never going to be a virus that gives teenagers X-Men like superpowers, but this scenario can still help us to think about things like personal freedom, the limits of government, and how we respond to and treat those that are different from us.

Blackout is also interesting in that it specifically creates a world where terrorism is rampant.  This is book one in a series so we don’t know a lot about the motivations of the terrorists, but we definitely see the effects of both living in this daily terror and in how much they have decimated this future United States.  It is interesting to note that even though we have been living under a color coded terrorist alert system since 2002, not much of the young adult literature being written today speaks specifically about terrorism.  And, as a bonus, Wells creates a way to talk about terrorism without vilifying any particular people group by creating this implausible scenario.  Like I said, we don’t know who the terrorists are at this point and what their motivation is, but I sincerely hope it doesn’t turn out to be a scenario that reinforces current stereotypes.

My only issue with Blackout is that it is coming out at the end of a year when there have already been a lot – and I do mean A LOT – of books that involve teen characters that have some type of X-Men like abilities.  The abilities in this one are varied and cool, and it is interesting to see how they can be used and the tension they create.  Wells puts his main characters in some unique scenarios that really amp up the tension and there are times when even you, the reader, have no idea who is who and on what side.  Blackout definitely excels as a thriller.  I highly recommend this book.

Blackout by Robison Wells will be released by HarperTeen in October of 2013.  ISBN: 9780062026125