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.

Unleashed Cover Reveal!

What if the worst thing you ever did was unforgivable?

Davy’s world fell apart after she tested positive for Homicidal Tendency Syndrome. She was expelled from her school, dumped by her boyfriend, abandoned by friends, and shipped off to a camp that turns HTS carriers into soldiers. Davy may have escaped, but the damage has already been done. The unthinkable has happened. Now, even worse than having everyone else see her as a monster is the knowledge that they may have been right about her all along. Because Davy has killed.

On the run from government agents, Davy is rescued by Caden, the charismatic leader of an underground group of rebels. Despite Caden’s assurances that the Resistance is made up of carriers like her, Davy isn’t sure she can trust them. Then again, she doesn’t even know if she can trust herself . . . or her growing feelings for Caden. But if she doesn’t belong with Caden and his followers, is there anywhere she can call home?
UNLEASHED mini-teaser:

I thought being labeled a killer and losing everything—my future, family, boyfriend, friends—was the worst thing that could ever happen to me. It’s not. Finding out they were right. Finding out that’s exactly what I am?

That’s worse.

Read our review of Uninvited here.

We are super excited for Unleashed! It is scheduled to be released early in 2015. We’ll keep you updated on all the news.

Book Review: Uninvited by Sophie Jordan

Tagline: “You can’t change your DNA . . . even when it says you’re a murderer.” 

Blurb: “The Scarlet Letter meets Minority Report in bestselling author Sophie Jordan’s chilling new novel about a teenage girl who is ostracized when her genetic test proves she’s destined to become a murderer.”

What if they developed a test where they could test everyone’s DNA for a gene associated with violence?
What if they decided that everyone was required to take the test?
What if they tested you and you tested positive?

Davy is a musical prodigy at a private school. She has a family that loves her. She has a boyfriend that loves her. And next year, she is probably going to Juliard.

Except Davy has just tested positive for Homicidal Tendency Syndrome (HTC). So now she has been “uninvited” from her school. Her friends have basically dropped her. And her family doesn’t know what to think of her. But she has never hurt anyone.

“Leaning down, he whispers for my ears alone. “Prove them wrong.” 

She soon finds herself forced to attend school in “the cage” with 5 other HTC carriers, some of whom are obviously very violent. But some of them are not.

As events on the outside world escalate, the rights of those who carry the HTC gene are diminishing. Davy is given one last option: to be entered into a special “rehabilitation” program.

My Thoughts:

This is one of those books that can be read on several levels. It is a fun, entertaining read. But if you want to peel back the layers, there is a lot of thoughtful discussion to be had here. Some of the topics subtly snuck in the midst of this story include: nature vs. nurture, civil rights, abuse of authority, the concept of innocent until proven guilty and there is even some interesting discussion to be had regarding our current prison system and how small crime offenders are often forced to become more hardened criminals when placed in extreme survival situations.

It is interesting to be a part of Davy’s journal. The life she thought she had spirals out of control rather quickly once she is identified as a carrier. She is surprised by her friend’s reactions to the news. And her boyfriend’s reaction was surprising even to me. We get a peak inside Davy’s head as we see her question who she is when faced with a variety of stressful situations that incite interesting responses.

In the cage, Davy meets a group of fellow carriers like herself. Sean, who bears the mark of someone who has in fact committed a violent act (here a tattoo H which will bring to mind the scarlet A). Gil, who seems to mild mannered and out of place. There is an interesting dynamic between Davy and Sean that builds but does not overwhelm the story.

Towards the end of the story there is a jaw dropping moment that puts Davy to the test. Literally, I had to pick my jaw up off of the floor.

Since 9/11 we have been asking ourselves and our policy makers how to balance our country’s principles of civil rights with the idea of national security, Jordan puts that same question to the test in a really unique speculative scenario that entertains while making us think. Jordan also plays around with the notion of the good girls falling in love with the bad boys by introducing a bad boy who may in fact turn out not to be such a bad boy after all. And one of the most effective parts of this book is how it is totally a contemporary setting with just this one little speculative twist: there’s no space ships or apocalypse, just teenagers like the ones living today who have the misfortune of carrying a specific genetic marker.

A good read-alike would be BLACKOUT by Robison Wells and REBOOT by Amy Tintera which have some of the same themes.

Highly recommended. Harper Teen, 2014. ISBN: 978-0-06-223365-3