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» Hatrack River Forum » Active Forums » Books, Films, Food and Culture » A question for fans of YA/MG fiction that leans speculative

   
Author Topic: A question for fans of YA/MG fiction that leans speculative
Icarus
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Hey all, remember me?

I know most everybody here loves science fiction, loves books, and loves talking about books, and I suspect quite a few people here also love Young Adult books and Middle Grade books, so I figured this might be the best place I know to ask this question:

I'm trying to compile a reading list of YA or MG books that have a speculative fiction element where the speculative fiction element is really understated. Books where the fantasy or science-fiction element is there, but maybe it's mostly there for thematic reasons, or it's handled with a lot of subtlety, where it's easy for forget that it's speculative while you're reading.

Any suggestions for me?

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Hobbes
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Honestly the books most like that for me are OSC books, which i know you're more than aware of. However I feel like I've recently read a few like this but can't quite place them so I'll muse on it and get back to you. [Smile]

Hobbes [Smile]

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SenojRetep
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I think the early books in the Alvin series (Seventh Son and The Red Prophet) are that way, sort of an interesting mix of fantasy and historical fiction with very relatable characters.

Ursula LeGuin's Wizard of Earthsea books, though they're more "high" fantasy, are very plot and character driven. Tehanu is virtually devoid of fantastical elements until the final couple of chapters, although it doesn't stand very well on its own, divorced from the earlier, more fantastical, books. Several of LeGuin's other, non-Earthsea books are similarly character focused.

Susan Cooper's Over Sea, Under Stone, which serves as a prelude to the Dark is Rising series is pretty light on the fantastical elements, although they're lurking in the background (and brought into sharper focus in the series proper).

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LargeTuna
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For me the king of YA novels is William Sleator.

I read too many of his books for me to even be able to start listing the best ones. But yeah, check his collection out.

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Scott R
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quote:
I'm trying to compile a reading list of YA or MG books that have a speculative fiction element where the speculative fiction element is really understated. Books where the fantasy or science-fiction element is there, but maybe it's mostly there for thematic reasons, or it's handled with a lot of subtlety, where it's easy for forget that it's speculative while you're reading.
Will Shetterly's Dogland.
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DDDaysh
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So I guess "My Teacher is an Alien" wouldn't qualify??? ;-)

I can't really think of anything in that age bracket where the speculation is truly under stated. Most of the time, that's what drives the plots.

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adenam
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A few books I can think of are:
Things Not Seen by Andrew Clements
Dragonhaven by Robin Mckinley
Tam Lin by Pamela Dean

Also many stories in the Firebird anthologies edited by Sharyn November (Firebirds, Firebirds Rising, Firebirds Soaring).

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Lisa
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Tam Lin is hardly YA. And I second William Sleator. I read House of Stairs when I was in 4th or 5th grade, and never, ever forgot it.
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rivka
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quote:
Originally posted by LargeTuna:
For me the king of YA novels is William Sleator.

Specific books of his that I think meet the criteria in the OP:
House of Stairs
Into the Dream

[Edit: Hah! Take 20 minutes to write a post, and get beaten to the punch on HoS!]

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scifibum
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I think I'd maybe put Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in that category. I mean, it's hard to miss the fantastical magical stuff happening regularly, but it seems to want to be set in the real world.
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Teshi
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Skellig (David Almond) is the one that immediately jumped to mind.
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Kwea
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I love McKinley, and I think her books The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown are in this type of setting, particularly The Blue Sword. There is magic, but it is not really spelled out what magic can and cannot do, and it isn't wave a wand and say a word magic.

I also liked her book Chalice.


Patricia McKillip writes this was as well, but not all her stuff is what I would call teen or YA. I loved The Riddlemaster of Hed growing up, but the rest of the series is not subtle in using magic.

I think her book Alphabet of Thorn might though.

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Icarus
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Thanks for the suggestions so far. [Smile] I've added four books to my Amazon Wish List.

Hey I just thought of this this morning--I haven't read Bridge to Terabithia, but I saw the movie. Folks who've read the book, would you say it fits? My impression from the movie was that it was left in the air just how real it all way. That is-it-or-isn't-it is a big part of what I'm looking for.

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Emreecheek
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Yay! Somebody has read Tam Lin.

It = My college experience. It's eerie how accurate it was. Despite that I'm going to a small, liberal-arts school almost 30 years later.

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SenojRetep
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The fantasy in Bridge to Terebithia is pretty explicitly make believe, to the best of my recollection. The movie made it much more real.

That said, it's a great book, so if you have to shoe-horn it in it's maybe worth it [Smile]

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rivka
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Icky, the actual book of Bridge makes the kids' fantasies far more clearly purely imagination. So I'd say no.
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kmbboots
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Anything by Madeleine L'Engle. She has a range of stories some of which are more fantasy than others. One caveat is that there is also a religious undercurrent that is occasionally not so subtle. For example, Many Waters visits the Noah story. It is less heavy handed than Lewis but she was significantly influenced by him.
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RivalOfTheRose
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perhaps the "Chaos Walking" trilogy
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fugu13
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quote:
perhaps the "Chaos Walking" trilogy
I think we have different definitions of "understated". Though those are really good and everyone should read them.
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RivalOfTheRose
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well yeah, but I agree with the sentiment mentioned above how its hard to find scifi/fantasy elements that aren't an integral part of the storyline.
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Yozhik
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Megan Whalen Turner's Queen's Thief books. Exactly what you're looking for. Fantastical element not very prominent at all, though important when it does appear. The books are The Thief, The Queen of Attolia, The King of Attolia, and A Conspiracy of Kings.
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Scott R
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quote:
Originally posted by kmbboots:
Anything by Madeleine L'Engle. She has a range of stories some of which are more fantasy than others. One caveat is that there is also a religious undercurrent that is occasionally not so subtle. For example, Many Waters visits the Noah story. It is less heavy handed than Lewis but she was significantly influenced by him.

To fit your OP, try some of the L'Engle's Austen family books (especially The Young Unicorns and A Ring of Endless Light. I think I remember rivka saying she hated it, but I enjoyed Arm of the Starfish.
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rivka
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quote:
Originally posted by Scott R:
I think I remember rivka saying she hated it, but I enjoyed Arm of the Starfish.

Your recollection is correct. However, it has been enough years that I am thinking I should re-read it and see if I like it any better now.

I heartily endorse the other L'Engle novels you mentioned, though.

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kmbboots
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If you check this link, the Kairos books tend to be more speculative than the Chronos books.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madeleine_L%27Engle

Ooops. Forgot the link.

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sarcasticmuppet
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Would The Giver count? I found it pretty cerebral when I was younger, though there is a fantasy element.
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rivka
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quote:
Originally posted by kmbboots:
If you check this link, the Kairos books tend to be more speculative than the Chronos books.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madeleine_L%27Engle

Ooops. Forgot the link.

Yes, but Icky was specifically looking for those that have an understated spec fic aspect. That rules out several of the Kairos books right off, I think.


I think The Giver works, sm. It's (slightly) futuristic more than fantastic.

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Chris Bridges
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Jo Walton's "Among Others."
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DDDaysh
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This is sort of off topic, but does anyone remember a trilogy of books about a boy who traveled back in time? I remember really liking them, but can't remember their names! The boy from the story has a father with Parkinson's I believe, there was something important about Magpies, and one of the books had a big stone wall on the front.

Any ideas?

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Icarus
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In hindsight I'm mentally amending what I'm looking for to say that I'm not looking for stories primarily set in another world.

What about Holes? Is the fantasy element in the novel as understated as in the movie?

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TomDavidson
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Oh, man, DDDaysh, I know exactly what series you're talking about, and I can't remember the name of it, either!
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kmbboots
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quote:
Originally posted by rivka:
quote:
Originally posted by kmbboots:
If you check this link, the Kairos books tend to be more speculative than the Chronos books.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madeleine_L%27Engle

Ooops. Forgot the link.

Yes, but Icky was specifically looking for those that have an understated spec fic aspect. That rules out several of the Kairos books right off, I think.


I think The Giver works, sm. It's (slightly) futuristic more than fantastic.

Yes. That is why I gave that information.
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adenam
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Holes is a good one.
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Sala
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Here are some more recently published possibilities:
  • Diamond Willow by Helen Frost. Written in a poetic style, each page is a diamond-shaped poem with boldfaced words that are like a second story set within the first. Set in Alaska with spirit animals.
  • Bringing the Boy Home by N. A. Nelson. This story tells about two 13-year-old boys, one in USA and one a native in the Amazon. Some mysticism/magic involved.
  • We Can't All Be Rattlesnakes by Patrick Jennings. Story told from the point of view of a rattlesnake captured by a boy.
  • Savvy by Ingrid Law. 13-year-old-girl is coming into her "savvy," a special magical "gift" that comes to people in her family. It takes her some time to figure out what her savvy actually is.
  • Go Big or Go Home by Will Hobbs. Meteorite falls to earth and is found by boys. It changes their lives in a magical way.
These books are set in modern times, modern life, with magical or mystical elements thrown in. Fifth graders at my school all really liked these books. Reading level is 5-7th grade reading ability. I enjoyed all of them, too!
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PSI Teleport
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I wanna say Invitation to the Game, by Monica Hughes. It's unmistakably SF to any adult that reads it, but I think it goes under the radar of kids. The first half is survival in the urban jungle, and the second is survival in a deserted geographical location. There is theoretical space travel between the two, but one tends to gloss over it in favor of the story.

There is a mild reference to robots in the very beginning, almost as a nod to "real" SF.

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