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.

Cybils Mini Reviews: Plague Edition featuring Reboot by Amy Tintera and A Matter of Days by Amber Kizer

The month of December finds me busily trying to read over 200 YA Speculative Fiction books for the 2013 Cybils (which are awesome).  I had read a lot of the nominated books, but not all.  So now I am happily playing catch up.  Today I present mini reviews on two books that have a plague theme: A Matter of Days by Amber Kizer and Reboot by Amy Tintera.  As you know, I love a good epidemic: see Epidemics list 1 and list 2.

First up: Reboot by Amy Tintera
Tagline: 5 years ago, I died. 178 minutes later, I woke up.

First of all, this is technically a zombie novel.  Why did you not tell me this people?  You know I love a good zombie novel.  A plague causes people to die and then they wake up later “different”.  Not traditional zombie, because they can talk and think, but with varying degrees of emotion.  The longer you are dead, the less emotion you seem to have.  Reboots are a threat to the population, so they are rounded up by the government (it’s always the government) where they are “employed” as soldiers sent out to track down other reboots and criminals.  So you have your dystopian element happening here.

Wren 178 is so named because it took her 178 minutes to reboot after death.  She is considered a machine, the go to reboot for dangerous assignments.  Lower numbers have more emotions, and 178 is the highest number there is in the reboot dorm.  But soon everything she thought she knew about herself, about the reboots, and about the world in which she lives is tested when she meets and agrees to train Callum 22 and she is given a secret assignment that goes terribly wrong.

I liked and highly recommend this book.  I thought it was an interesting twist on the zombie novel and can be used as a springboard discussion starter on human rights, understanding those that are different from us, and the role of government in society.   This book can really spark a lot of science and ethics discussions.  There is a lot of good stuff in there in terms of character arcs and emotional growth, action for those wanting a little action, and a little romance for those who want that as well.  Pair this with Blackout by Robison Wells and The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins for a great discussion about government.

Second up: A Matter of Days by Amber Kizer
Tagline: Will you be a survivor or a statistic?

On the 56th day of the Blustar Pandemic, Nadia’s mother dies and her and her younger brother, Rabbit, set out to cross the country on their own to find their grandfather and uncle as instructed in a letter.   What ensues is basically the road trip from hell: Nadia is barely 16 and can’t technically drive and she is suddenly tasked with getting her little brother safely through the elements in a barren world populated by the few that survive, and they are often less than helpful.  At several intervals they meet various groups that try to rob them, imprison them, and more.  And they save a few people along the way.

There really isn’t anything new or cutting edge here, but A Matter of Days is a good survival story for those interested in that genre (raises hand).  I really liked the relationship between Nadia and Rabbit and they way they both grew under the very real pressures they now faced, and how they sometimes fell apart.  I also liked that they picked up a teenage boy, Zach, and there was no dreamy staring into his eyes or insta-love because the needs of immediate survival and that initial distrust was there.  Thank you Amber Kizer for that.

The Mr. also picked up and read this book and he liked it.  In particular, he liked the sparse storytelling style which stressed the urgency of their situation (and I agree) and he just liked the voice of the characters.  It’s very readable, great I think for reluctant readers, and I think teens will come away from it satisfied.

I love those claustrophobic feeling books where there are only a few characters on the page and you just have to be fully invested in their story.  See also: Ashfall by Mike Mullin, These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner, and In Honor by Jessi Kirby.