Archive for Science Fiction

Booktalk: Beta by Rachel Cohn

When I went on a recent reading spree so that I could come up with some candidates for my favorite teen books of 2012, Beta stood out for several reasons.  First, it stood out because it was a dystopian fiction novel, and Lord knows I’m a fan of dystopian fiction.  But Beta also stood out because I saw that it was written by Rachel Cohn, who had already earned my admiration with realistic fiction books like Gingerbread.  No, seriously, if you haven’t read Gingerbread yet and want a book with a great protagonist that puts the “real” in realistic fiction, go read it now!

So even though I didn’t know if Rachel Cohn could pull off a science fiction novel, the fact that I knew she was great with realistic fiction made me want to read this book.  And I was richly rewarded when I did!  By the way, the ending of this book was such a surprising cliffhanger that I imagine that both teens and adults who read this book will be clamoring to get their hands on the next book in the series as soon as it’s written.


Elysia is sixteen years old, and she was born that way.  When she woke up in the lab, she saw a woman standing there and asked if she was Elysia’s mother.  The woman seemed angry.  She said she was Elysia’s creator, not her mother.  You see, Elysia is a clone, and a very special one at that.  Adult clones have been around for years, but Elysia is one of the first teenage clones.  The scientists call the teenage clones Betas because they’re not sure if the science is perfected yet.  They’re a little worried about the effect of teenage hormones, and they think that the teen clones might not be stable yet.  That being said, Elysia appears to be a perfect specimen.  She’s beautiful, she’s smart … well, the chip in her brain is smart, anyway.  And most importantly, she’s polite.  When a rich woman buys Elysia to be her companion, Elysia finally gets to see more of the world than just the lab and the store where she was bought.  Elysia starts learning about the world and about herself.  Elysia knows that the real girl that she was cloned from is dead, because a clone can only be created after a person’s soul is extracted.  But Elysia doesn’t know who that person was.  Did she have a lot of friends?  What was her name?  How did she die?  Does anyone miss her?  Clones are supposed to be content to serve.  They’re not supposed to ask questions.  But Elysia can’t help but wonder about the real girl who looked just like her.

And then one day Elysia goes swimming, and when she dives underwater she suddenly sees a strange young man in the water with her.  He speaks to her and then, suddenly, he’s gone.  Elysia has never seen this man before … and yet she knows him.  She knows from the look in his eyes and the tone of his voice that this is the man who loved the girl who died so that Elysia could be created.

Elysia just had a flashback from a dead girl.  That DEFINITELY wasn’t supposed to happen.

Booktalk: Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

Scott Westerfeld has been writing out-of-this world fiction series for years, including Peeps, Leviathan, and Midnighters.  But my all-time favorite is still Uglies, which was the beginning of a trilogy that wasn’t exactly a trilogy.  I love to booktalk books like these because they break the bounds and expectations of their genres.  A lot of kids don’t think they like science fiction, but when they hear the description of this book they won’t care what genre it belongs to.  They’ll just want to know what happens next.

BTW, I love this book so much that I gave it one of my ten precious votes in NPR’s “Best-Ever Teen Books” list.  Have you voted yet?  There’s still time!


Tally Youngblood is about to turn sixteen, and you know what THAT means!  No more sneaking out at night, no more pranks, no more party-crashing … and no more being ugly.  On her sixteenth birthday, she is going to be magically (well, medically) transformed … into a pretty.  Tally will go under the knife, and all of her ugly features will be fixed and cut away until only the beautiful part remains.  She wonders sometimes about what exactly happens when you’re transformed from an ugly into a pretty.  Tally and her friends used to spy on the new pretties, and they seemed different somehow.  Not just different because they’re breathtakingly beautiful, but their personalities seemed different, too.  Tally once talked to a pretty who used to be her best friend, and it seemed like he hardly knew her anymore.  But maybe that’s just what happens when you turn pretty.  Maybe when you become that beautiful, you don’t want to be reminded of what you used to be.

Now not everyone wants to transform, and one of those people is Tally’s friend Shay.  Shay has been talking for a while now about a mysterious place somewhere in the wilderness called the Smoke, a place where you don’t turn pretty when you turn sixteen.  Now Shay has vanished, and the rumor is that she ran away to try and find the Smoke.  Tally is ready to be beautiful, and she can’t wait until she finally transforms and leaves ugliness far behind her.  But three days before her birthday, everything changes.  You see, Tally isn’t the only one who thinks that Shay has gone off to find the Smoke.  The people in charge of making you pretty think so, too.  They want Shay back as soon as possible, and they believe that Tally can find her.  So they give Tally an ultimatum: discover the secret location of the Smoke, find Shay and turn her in to the authorities … or else stay ugly forever.

Booktalk: Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer

The story of Life as We Knew It is both thought-provoking and chilling.  It’s especially chilling because, unlike scenarios in books like The Hunger Games in which many changes would need to happen over many years for that future to occur, in this scenario just one thing would need to happen.  A meteor would have to hit the moon hard enough to change its orbit.  This would be an excellent suggestion for readers looking for tales of more dystopian futures, as well as a suggestion for readers who don’t think they like science fiction.  You can go to Pfeffer’s website or this site about the “Life as We Knew It” trilogy to find out how much the world changes in this imaginary future.


Everyone was excited when they heard that a meteor was going to hit the moon.  Of course, the moon had been hit by meteors many times before, but THIS time it was going to be different.  This was going to be something so big that people would be able to see with the naked eye, and it promised to be spectacular.  The night of the meteor, it seemed like everyone in the neighborhood was outside, staring up at the sky and waiting.  The people with telescopes saw the meteor first, but soon enough everyone could see it.  They all saw when it hit the moon.  It was amazing and spectacular, like something out of a movie.  But as Miranda and her family watched, this amazing thing quickly turned frightening.  Because something was wrong with the moon.  It shifted in the sky somehow.  The moon looked too large, or maybe too close.  Nobody knew exactly what this meant, but they went to bed feeling confused and scared.  It wasn’t until the next morning that Miranda and her family got the first clues of just how lucky they were.  Coastal areas all over the world had been wiped out overnight by tsunami waves.  The change in gravity also caused volcanoes all over the world to erupt, killing even more people, and throwing up enough ash and smoke to block out the sun.  And no more sun meant no more plants and no more food.  The entire planet had changed.

Miranda used to have a life filled with simple choices.  But as the days turn into weeks and months, her choices are going to be a lot different.  If she has extra food, should she share it or keep it for herself?  Is it safe to leave the house?  Is it safe to trust other people?  And just how badly does she want to survive?

Booktalk: The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson

I was looking at my most recent episodes, and decided that after a long streak of realistic fiction it was high time for a sci-fi palate cleanser.  The Adoration of Jenna Fox is a book that flew under my radar until it was on my library system’s summer reading list.  As soon as I started reading it, the booktalk started writing itself.  I thought that Jenna was a great protagonist, and her confusion about her own identity will pull readers along in a roller-coaster of a story.  Oh, and know that if you order this book you might have a choice of book covers.  I personally think that the one pictured above with the jigsaw-puzzle pieces is EXTREMELY cool.

Check out Mary E. Pearson’s website to learn more about this book, the sequel The Fox Inheritance, and many more teen novels.  You can also visit the Who Is Jenna Fox? website (featuring my second-favorite book cover design) for a book trailer, sample chapter, discussion guide, and more.


My parents have always loved me too much.  They’ve spent hours and hours filming me from every angle, following me with the video camera and immortalizing my every move.  At least, that’s the way it seems.  That’s what I’ve learned from these people who call themselves my parents.  Only … I don’t remember them.  Of course, it’s not just them; I don’t remember ME either.  I also don’t remember my friends, or my school, or anything else from more than two weeks ago.  Because there was an accident, and then I was in a coma, and then two weeks ago I finally woke up.  It turns out that it’s a good thing that my parents spent most of my life recording my every move, because now I can watch those videos every day.  Jenna, age seven.  Jenna, age ten.  Jenna, age fifteen.  Little by little, my memory is starting to come back in bits and pieces.  But I still have lots of unanswered questions.  Like, what happened to my friends?  Why haven’t they tried to call me, or sent me a single get-well card?  Why does my grandmother treat me like I’m a stranger?  And why does it feel like my parents have been lying to me about who I really am?

Booktalk: Delirium by Lauren Oliver

After I’d heard about a new dystopian romance (there’s that phrase that pays!) called Delirium, I ordered a copy through my library system.  The book that showed up had the cover you see on the right.  As I was reading the book, the booktalk started writing itself in my head and I immediately began taking notes so that I could present this book to classes.  By the time I started scheduling my class visits, I saw that there were several different covers available for this book, including the “special edition” pictured on the left.  Now, while I appreciate that the special edition cover is more attractive and more enticing, I made sure that I brought the original cover with me on my class visits.  Because that new cover screams “girls only,” and most boys wouldn’t be caught dead carrying that around.  I can’t guarantee that you’ll have your choice of both covers (as of this moment, I only see the special edition available on, but I just wanted you to be aware that more than one cover design exists for Delirium.  However, you should also know that future volumes in this series look like they’re going to follow the special-edition format.

You can learn about Delirium, its hotly-anticipated sequel Pandemonium (coming out in March!), and more at Lauren Oliver’s website.


64 years ago, amor deliria nervosa was recognized as a disease.  Two decades later, the scientists perfected a cure.  According to the Safety, Health, and Happiness Handbook, a cure was necessary, because this disease was known to cause depression, pain, and even death.

Amor deliria nervosa is love, and love is against the law.

Every citizen goes through a procedure in which they are cured of this disease when they turn 18.  Lena is seventeen years old, and she can’t wait to be cured.  Her mother was one of the prime examples of why this disease was so dangerous.  The government tried to cure her mother three different times, with no success.  They were going to try to cure her a fourth time, but Lena’s mother killed herself before they could do it.  Lena’s mother never stopped loving her father.  Lena doesn’t want to live with that kind of pain.  But she has no idea that she’s about to meet a boy who will change her life.

Booktalk: Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link


Pretty Monsters is an unusual short story collection that will definitely attract some unusual readers.  With my booktalk, I focused on one story that I thought would be most captivating to a large audience and I appealed to my listeners’ curiosity and sense of humor.  Keep in mind that when booktalking a short story collection, you have
the option of talking about the collection as a whole or focusing on one
story like I did.  If you enjoy Kelly Link’s writing (and I think you will), then check out her website to learn more about her and those oh-so-amazing stories.

Oh, and one other booktalking note: my spoken booktalk differs slightly from my written one.  Usually if I go “off script” while recording the podcast I edit the written booktalk to match, but this time I left the changes on purpose.  I wanted you guys to see that a booktalk can evolve over time.  In part it’s because the way we write is a little different from the way we speak.  In part it’s because we start to take mental and verbal shortcuts if we say the same thing over and over again.  If you listened to a booktalk that I wrote on the day I wrote it, a week later, a month later, and a year later, it would sound a little different each time.  That’s not a bad thing; it’s just nature taking its course.  A little flexibility is definitly an asset, especially when you’re performing a booktalk in front of an audience.  If you’re comfortable enough with the words to be able to make some impromptu changes as you go along, you’ll be less likely to freeze like a deer in the headlights in front of the class.  Which is DEFINITELY a good thing.


Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link is a unique collection of fantasy, science fiction, and horror stories.  Each story has different elements of fantasy, from wizards to ghosts to aliens.  The story I’m going to share with you today is about a boy named Miles who is digging up his late girlfriend’s grave.

Now you might be wondering why he’d do such a thing.

Well, after Bethany died, Miles decided to make a very romantic gesture.  He wrote a bunch of poems just for her, some of the best ones he’d ever written.  And he took those poems, hand-written and covered with tear stains, and he’d put them in Bethany’s casket with her, so that no one else would ever read them.  But now it’s almost a year later, and Miles has changed his mind.  He’s realized what an idiot he was burying those poems with Bethany — how will the world be able to recognize his genius if no one else can read these poems?  So anyway, THAT’S why he’s digging up Bethany’s grave.  Miles’ plan is to dig down to the coffin, open it, take the poems, and get out of there ASAP … but things don’t go exactly the way he expects.  Because when he opens the coffin he sees a dead girl … only it’s the wrong dead girl.  And not only is she not the person he expected, but she’s also not as dead as he expected.  But Miles doesn’t REALLY freak out until she starts talking to him.  She tells him that her name is Gloria, not Bethany.  She also tells him that she doesn’t feel like staying in the graveyard anymore; in fact, now that he’s dug her up, she wants to come with him.  You can find out what happens in the story of “The Wrong Grave,” which is just one of the amazing stories in

Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link