Like fantasy, science fiction is a genre that employs and relies on extraordinary imagination. It's a brilliant form of escapism as it offers us entire worlds that are dissimilar from our own.
As a teenage reader, it can be difficult to find books that are both challenging and engaging. Too much complexity can be discouraging to parse through, while lack of depth is boring and pointless.
Over the years, some authors have managed to hit the mark just right with sophisticated stories that aren't dry or convoluted, but are in fact as entertaining and thrilling as they come.
Here are our picks for the best sci-fi books tailored to the Young Adult market, with deeply impactful stories appropriate for teenagers.
10. Have Space Suit—Will Travel (Robert A. Heinlein)
Author Robert A. Heinlein was nicknamed the "dean of science fiction writers" due to the scientific accuracy in his writing.
He wrote dozens of novels and short stories, with Have Space Suit—Will Travel being one of his more juvenile works for a younger audience.
Have Space Suit—Will Travel follows the journey of Kip Russell, a high school senior who wants to go to the moon. In trying to win a ticket to get there, he wins an old, run-down space suit instead. Will he let that stop him? No! Obviously, he's going to fix it.
With a great sense of humor and whimsical adventure, it's a sci-fi story anyone can enjoy, but younger readers will certainly love it.
9. Renegades (Marissa Meyer)
Even in sci-fi, a little bit of romance can go a long way. Marissa Meyer is the bestselling author behind the Lunar Chronicles series, but she topped all of her past work when she wrote Renegades.
The story focuses on a heroic strata of superhumans known as the "Renegades," a justice-seeking force that establishes a civilized society out of the wreckage that Earth has become.
Nova, a young girl set on destroying the Renegades, infiltrates their training program with the intention of bringing them down from the inside. However, when she falls in love with Adrian, the son of the original superheroes, her purpose becomes murky.
Renegades is a wonderful read for teenagers, taking elements of Romeo and Juliet and spicing it up with near-future superheroes and supervillains battling through moral quandaries.
8. Gone (Michael Grant)
It's been nearly 15 years since Michael Grant's original Gone released, but in that short time it has become a classic sci-fi book for teenagers who like deep worldbuilding and character development.
Set in a world where anyone over the age of 15 mysteriously disappears, Gone explores how the teenage mind would wrestle with the reality and consequences of a world like this.
Over the course of the series—which stands at nine books as of this writing—we see the impact it has on the youthful society, and things eventually take a dark turn.
7. The Knife of Never Letting Go (Patrick Ness)
Being a teenager is difficult, what with all the growing up and maturing that happens as you learn hard truths of life.
However, in The Knife of Never Letting Go, the central protagonist is a 12-year-old boy named Todd Hewitt who learns a horrifying secret about the town in which he has grown up.
To put it shortly, The Knife of Letting Go is set in a town where everyone can hear everyone else's thoughts. If that's not a seriously compelling premise for teenage readers, then I don't know what is!
6. Want (Cindy Pon)
Cindy Pon's Want is both futuristic and terrifyingly realistic.
Zhou lives in a city that's polluted so badly that the air is barely breathable, resulting in many young deaths. However, the super-rich live totally untouched by the devastation and use their wealth to continue extending their lifespans.
So, of course, Zhou vows to bring them down. Themes of pollution, overpopulation, and climate change pervade the novel, giving plenty of food for thought for young teenage minds.
5. Ready Player One (Ernest Cline)
One of the most successful young adult science fiction novels of all time, Ernest Cline's Ready Player One remains a home run.
The story is set in 2045. A young boy named Wade Watts tasks himself with finding an Easter Egg in a virtual reality game that's played by people around the world. If he can find it, he'll inherit the game creator's fortune.
Ignore the lackluster movie adaptation that came out in 2018. Ready Player One is a classic sci-fi novel that's still worth reading today, with prescient depictions of a world ravaged by pollution and neglect.
4. The House of the Scorpion (Nancy Farmer)
Perhaps the most emotionally resonant sci-fi book for teenagers, The House of the Scorpion is a young adult must-read for its themes of personal identity and individuality.
The story is set in a fictional country named Opium, a state that was once part of Mexico. The plot follows Matt, a clone of the incredibly powerful drug lord that rules Opium with an iron fist.
The House of the Scorpion takes place over several years, where themes of illegal immigration are examined through Farmer's unique view.
3. The Giver (Lois Lowry)
When she wrote The Giver in 1993, Lois Lowry ended up penning one of the greatest young adult novels of all time.
The story is set in a seemingly utopian society that has converted to a religion named "Sameness" in order to avoid the pains and sufferings associated with individuality.
A 12-year-old boy named Jonas is selected to succeed the Receiver of Memory, and he must learn the secrets of what life was like before Sameness took over and expunged color and emotion from the world.
The Giver is a novel that deals with difficult themes and issues, perfect for readers who are just coming into their fully grown selves.
2. Scythe (Neal Shusterman)
In 2016, Neal Shusterman delivered a fantastic addition to the world's collection of science fiction with Scythe.
Scythe is set in the distant future, in a world where death, disease, and deterioration of the human body are no longer concerns. The realm of humanity is now governed by a benevolent artificial intelligence.
So, in a world without death, how is population kept in check? Well, there's a group of people known as Scythes, who are tasked with culling the population and maintaining equilibrium.
Two Scythe apprentices, Rowan and Citra, recognize that only one of them can become a Scythe. What will happen to the other?
Scythe is such an electrifying read, so much so that it won the Barnes and Noble Award for Best Book for Young Adults and the American Library Association selected it as a winning read for young adults.
1. Dune (Frank Herbert)
Frank Herbert's Dune is the quintessential science fiction novel series. It follows the journey of Paul Atreides and his family as they take stewardship over an inhospitable planet.
They have one goal: to harvest melange (nicknamed "spice"), a fictional psychedelic drug that sharpens the mind, increases lifespan, and improves vitality. It also unlocks intergalactic space travel.
However, complications arise as factions attempt to take over the farming of spice for themselves.
Dune is the perfect sci-fi book for young adults who have grown bored of stale, one-dimensional stories and characters. While it can be difficult to parse at times, it isn't so tough that a young mind can't follow.