I would say that 80% of what I read is speculative fiction and 80% of that is middle grade and young adult literature. It’s more than just wanting to know my genre and demographic, I really do love the stuff.
I’ve discovered that many people don’t know what the term “speculative fiction” means – they just know what they like. They might know the broad terms of sci fi, fantasy, and horror, but speculative fiction has come to mean much more.
Basically, if the story is set in a world not based on the reality of our own, it is speculative. It can be an alternate past, present, or future on earth, or it can be set in a completely imaginary world.
“Speculative literature is a catch-all term meant to inclusively span the breadth of fantastic literature, encompassing literature ranging from hard science fiction to epic fantasy to ghost stories to horror to folk and fairy tales to slipstream to magical realism to modern myth-making — and more.”
~Speculative Literature Foundation
I like to think of it in “what if” scenarios. What if vampires existed? (Dracula, Interview with a Vampire, etc) What if an extra-terrestrial landed on earth? (Stranger in a Strange Land, E.T., etc) What if there were a such thing as time travel? (When You Reach Me, The Time Traveler’s Wife). What if there were wizards/dragons/faeries/angels who lived among us? What if the world flooded after an environmental crisis? What if there was another civil war in the U.S.? What if DNA were discovered 100 years earlier than it had been?
No longer do we think of speculative fiction solely in terms of Sci Fi, Fantasy, and Horror. As readers and writers have become more sophisticated, genres have been blended and experimented with. Many people who never would have read a “fantasy” book in the past, because High Fantasy didn’t interest them, may pick up an urban fantasy, or someone who wasn’t interested in the technical jargon of hard Science Fiction, might devour a steampunk novel.
There has been an explosion of speculative fiction in the middle grade and young adult market. The middle grade books tend to focus more on traditional fantasy: dragons, magic, faeries, wizards, demi-gods. But even these are being reinvented. There’s not a long list of middle grade science fiction (The Search for WandLa is one that comes to mind), but perhaps that will change it the “J.K Rowling of science fiction” appears on the scene.
The young adult trends are more urban / gothic fantasy (vampires, werewolves, angels), dystopian futures (Hunger Games, Maze Runner, Shipbreaker), or blends of fantasy or sci fi with horror (dystopian zombie stories!). And many times, because the YA audience has more female readers, there is a romance involved (can you say LOVE TRIANGLE?)
Here’s a great link on the subgenres of speculative fiction by author / editor Marj Gilks.
There is no way to list all the fabulous MG and YA speculative fiction books. Not a chance. So, I’ve tried to at least make a list that explores different subgenres of speculative fiction that I’ve enjoyed over the years.
And I fully admit that I’m not a big YA urban fantasy fan. I’m not really into vampires, werewolves, or zombies so I’m not the best person to get a recommendation for those. If you like zombies, The Forest of Hands and Teeth was a pretty good tale. And I’ve yet to read Cherie Priest’s steampunk zombie book Boneshaker, which sounds interesting. As far as urban fantasy, Cassandra Clare is quite popular – she may do for you in a way she doesn’t do for me.
YA (ages 13+)
Anderson, M.T. – Feed
Adams, Richard – Watership Down
Bacigalupi, Paolo – Shipbreaker
Black, Holly – White Cat
Cinda Williams Chima – Seven Realms series
Collins, Suzanne – Hunger Games Trilogy
Dashner, James – Maze Runner series
Doctorow, Cory – Little Brother
Fisher, Catherine – Incarceron series
Gaiman, Neil – Stardust
Dunn, Katherin – Geek Love
Le Guin, Ursela K. – Earthsea Cycle series
McKillup, Patricia – The Forgotten Beasts of Eld
Snyder, Maria – Poison Study (Study Series #1)
Westerfeld, Scott – Leviathan series, Uglies series
Middle Grade (ages 9-12)
DiCamillo, Kate – The Miraculous Journey of Edward Toulane, The Magician’s Elephant
Furlong, Monica – Wise Child, Juniper
Gaiman, Neil – The Graveyard Book, Coraline
Juster, Norton – The Phantom Tollbooth
L’Engle, Madeleine – A Wrinkle in Time (and the others in the Time series)
Lewis, C.S. – Chronicles of Narnia
Pullman, Philip – His Dark Materials trilogy (upper MG to YA)
Rowling, J.K. – Harry Potter series
Stead, Rebecca – When You Reach Me
Tolkein, J.R.R. – The Hobbit
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