1) "All Our Yesterdays" by Cristin Terrill
Time travel done right.
Narrator Em and her boyfriend, Finn, escape from their totalitarian future, time traveling back four years to commit a heart-wrenching assassination of a loved one in order to prevent time travel from being invented and the future from turning so wrong. The future’s hinted-at horrors are threatening but expertly backgrounded, avoiding dystopia-fatigue. The clever, accessible time-space treatment isn’t weighed down by jargon. Em and Finn’s proactive mission means the characters are the hunters instead of the frequently seen on-the-run teen protagonists. The other side of the storyline, taking place in the past that Em and Finn travel to and starring their past selves, is narrated by Marina (Em, in this timeline) and involves her brilliant yet interpersonally challenged best friend (and crush) James and his friend Finn, who annoys Marina, as they deal with a tragedy in James’ family. The believable, complex relationships among the three characters of each respective time and in the blended area of shared time add a surprise: A plot ostensibly about assassination is rooted firmly in different shades of love. Perhaps richest is the affection Em feels for Marina—a standout compared to the truckloads of books about girls who only learn to appreciate themselves through their love interests’ eyes.
Powerful emotional relationships and tight plotting in this debut mark Terrill as an author to watch. (Science fiction. 12 & up)
2) "Unraveling" by Elizabeth Norris
In a refreshing change of pace from the current glut of angel books, when Janelle is killed in a car accident, she doesn't move on to a seraphic afterlife; she's brought back from the dead instead.
Her savior is stoner Ben, and even as he is bringing her back to life she notices his "huge brown eyes,… wavy dark hair [and] tortured half smile." Janelle needs to be alive. Her mother has withdrawn into total bipolar uselessness, and though her X-Files–obsessed, FBI-agent father is fabulous, he works insane hours, so Janelle holds the family together. Through some efficient snooping in her dad's office, Janelle learns that people are turning up melted—including the person in the car that hit her. And there's mention of a countdown to an event that could destroy the Earth. Could there be a connection? First-time author Norris surrounds her likable narrator with equally appealing and complex primary and secondary characters, compensating for a relatively slow pace. Plotting is not quite so strong, particularly in the book's science-fiction elements. Ben's healing ability is given a ludicrously vague explanation, and the potential Earth-ending event is made only barely more credible. Still, the writing is smooth, and the love story satisfies despite its predictability.
Good for romance fans, if not science-fiction aficionados. (Science fiction/thriller/romance. 14 & up)
3) "MILA 2.0" by Debra Driza
A fast-paced sci-fi adventure complete with artificial intelligence, military intrigue, secret societies and a hint of romance.
Mila is shocked to learn—by falling out of a truck and discovering wires and high-tech gadgetry where blood and bones should be—that she is not a teenage girl, but a military weapon. Her mother is actually one of the scientists who created her; she then spirited her away when it was decided that Mila should be scrapped in favor of a newer model, as her too-genuine emotions proved an unacceptable vulnerability. When Mila and her mom are caught, Mila must face a series of tests to save her mother and herself from elimination. To survive, she’ll have to figure out how to make the most of her military hardware and training as well as her human emotions. While it definitely raises interesting questions about identity and memory, this offering depends much more on the fast-paced plot to keep readers engaged. It eschews for the most part the deep philosophical musings on what it means to be human that elevate otherwise similar titles such as Mary Pearson’s The Adoration of Jenna Fox (2009), for example, beyond thrills.
With likable characters and nonstop action, this one will please readers who prefer adventure to ethical exploration. (Science fiction. 12 & up)
4) "Steelheart" by Brandon Sanderson
A straight-up Marvel Comics–style action drama featuring a small band of human assassins taking on costumed, superpowered supervillains with melodramatic monikers.
It’s certainly a tried-and-true formula. Twelve years ago, a mysterious Calamity began turning random ordinary humans into evil Epics gifted with various combinations of superpowers (and also, always, some Achilles heel). Now, 18-year-old David Charleston manages at last to make contact with a cell of Epic-killing Reckoners led by legendary mastermind Jon Phaedrus. Then it’s on to a nonstop thrill ride that begins with the killing of David’s father 10 years before and roars through car and motorcycle chases, secret missions, huge explosions and hails of gunfire with high-tech weaponry to a climactic battle with Epic Steelheart. He’s bulletproof, shoots energy balls, has transformed the entire Chicago area into solid steel with a wave of his hand and wears a stylish silver cape. Shockingly, the book closes with the stunning revelation than not all Epics are evil through and through. As further sign that Sanderson (Rithmatist, 2013, etc.) isn’t taking any of this too seriously, the cast of Epics includes not only the likes of Steelheart, Faultline and Deathpoint, but Pink Pinkness and El Brass Bullish Dude, and some of their powers are equally silly. Stay tuned for sequels.
There’s violence and gore in profusion, cool gear, hot wheels, awesome feats, inner conflicts on both sides—all that’s missing are the pictures. (Fantasy. 11-14)
5) "A Thousand Pieces of You" by Claudia Gray
A girl and her two possible heartthrobs travel across parallel universes to avenge her father’s murder.
Marguerite’s parents are both brilliant scientists, inventors of a device called the Firebird that allows the bearer to travel across the multiverse. When her dad dies in a car crash after his brake lines have been cut, everyone blames Paul, one of two research assistants working for the couple. But Paul has escaped by using the Firebird to travel to another universe. Theo, the other assistant, teams up with Marguerite in a prototype to chase Paul. They discover that although some things are different from universe to universe—technology in particular—the people are the same. Inhabiting the bodies of their parallel selves, they find Paul, but things go awry and they wind up traveling to yet another world: a nicely drawn parallel czarist Russia where Marguerite is the czarevna and secretly in love with that world’s Paul. But she’s also attracted to Theo. And, in the parallel worlds, who is really who? Gray doesn’t worry much about actual science in her science fiction, muddling the concept of multiple universes with that of multiple dimensions, but she keeps the plot moving and has some good fun keeping all of the parallel people sorted.
This trilogy opener offers solid entertainment for readers willing to go with the fictional flow.(Science fiction. 12-18)
6) "The House of the Scorpion" by Nancy Farmer
7) "Life As We Knew It" by Susan Beth Pfeffer
Sixteen-year-old Miranda begins a daily ten-month diary documenting the survival ordeal her rural Pennsylvania family endures when a large meteor’s collision with the moon brings on destruction of the modern world and all its technological conveniences. The change in the moon’s gravitational pull begins to cause natural havoc around the globe in the form of catastrophic tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanoes and other weather-related disasters. Miranda’s American teen view gradually alters as personal security, physical strength and health become priorities. Pfeffer paints a gruesome and often depressing drama as conditions become increasingly difficult and dangerous with the dwindling of public and private services. Miranda’s daily litany of cutting firewood, rationing canned meals, short tempers flaring in a one-room confinement is offset by lots of heart-to-heart talks about life and its true significance with her mother, older brother and religiously devout best friend. Death is a constant threat, and Pfeffer instills despair right to the end but is cognizant to provide a ray of hope with a promising conclusion. Plausible science fiction with a frighteningly realistic reminder of recent tragedies here and abroad. (Fiction. YA)