Growing up is hard in the best of times, but add the vacuum of space and suddenly growing up Earthside doesn’t seem quite so bad. At least here we don’t have to deal with spaceship maintenance and rogue alien attacks. Puberty is hard enough. That’s why coming-of-age in space stories provide the perfect mix of escapism and relatability. We all have to grow up; most of us just don’t have to join the crew of a spaceship to get through it. The teens in these books, though, make juggling alien encounters alongside puberty seem, if not downright easy, at least pretty dang cool. Who wouldn’t want to grow up as a trailblazing space explorer? Sign me up.
Coming of age isn’t so bad if you can do it with great books like these by your side. So for all you adventurous readers who aren’t willing to settle for books about life here on Earth, we have eight coming-of-age in space stories for you to live out your wildest intergalactic dreams. Go ahead and imagine a life outside of this world — outside of this galaxy even. Maybe it will be the first step for you next great adventure.
The Sol Majestic by Ferrett Steinmetz
At the Sol Majestic, incredible food is a way of life. For Kenna, an aspiring teen guru, food has always been a luxury. Forget about 4-star dining, having enough to eat was always a big enough struggle. Then he wins a free dinner at the Sol Majestic, the galaxy’s most prestigious restaurant, and not only does he experience the best meal of his life, he becomes the eccentric head chef’s new muse.
But apparently his free meal has put the restaurant on the brink of financial ruin. Now it’s up to him to help put the restaurant back on track as he tries to figure out the philosophy that will finally fulfill his parents dreams of him becoming an advisor to the celestial elite. That would be easier if Kenna had any idea what he really believed in, of course. Maybe the answer lies in plain sight, but with the weight of the galaxy’s greatest restaurant on his shoulders, it might take a true miracle for him to figure it out.
Victories Greater Than Death by Charlie Jane Anders
Tina has always known that she was meant for more than her life on Earth. She’s the clone of an intergalactic hero, after all, and one day soon she’ll go back to saving the universe. But when the spaceship finally comes to take her away, it turns out the memories of her past life can’t be restored. Now she’s on board an alien spaceship where everyone was expecting her to be the second coming of Captain Argentian. But she’s still just a regular girl — well, mostly. Alongside her best friend and four other Earth teens recruited to the HMSS Indomitable, Tina learns that the reality of being a hero — even the clone of one — isn’t at all what she expected.
Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee
When her brother is accused of treason, Min runs away on a spaceship to find him and prove his innocence. She knows he never would’ve stolen the mystical Dragon Pearl, even if it might hold the key to saving their partially terraformed home world. But venturing out on her own forced Min to rely on the fox magic her family has always warned her against using. And as she goes up against gambling bosses, pirates, and ghosts, she begins to realize that the journey to finding her brother is far more complex than she ever thought.
We’re Not From Here by Geoff Rodkey
What’s worse than losing your home world? Having to become an ambassador for your whole species when the new planet that promised you a home decides humans are too violent to move in. That’s what happens when the Planet Choom, full of insect-like aliens, decides Lan and the rest of Lan’s family will be a test case to determine if the rest of humanity lives up to their standards. Easier said than done when you’re going to school in a classroom full of aliens and everyone has already decided you’re not good enough. Now it’s up to Lan to prove humans are more than just their past and that even alien species can get along.
Skyward by Brandon Sanderson
Spensa is one of the lone remnants of the human race on a planet constantly under alien attack. She dreams of being a pilot. And when she discovers an alien wreckage, it seems like her dream might finally be possible. Now she just has to somehow manage to repair the damaged ship, navigate the dangers of flight school, and convince the ship (which seems to have a soul) to let her become the pilot she’s always known she was meant to be.
Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
Brilliant Africanfuturist Nnedi Okorafor’s sci-fi novella about a girl journeying to an elite alien university when her ship is attacked is a coming-of-age in space story like no other. Binti is the first of her people to be offered a place at Oomza University. But following her dreams and her desire for knowledge comes at the cost of leaving her family and her people behind for those with no respect or understanding of her culture. And her decision has put her in the warpath of the Meduse, an alien species at war with the homeworld of Oomza. Wronged, the Meduse now seek revenge.
To survive, Binti must use both the gifts of her people and the knowledge that got her accepted into Oomza. Surviving is vital, but forging a new path forward may just bring new hope for the future to everyone — even if it changes the course of Binti’s life forever.
Do You Dream of Terra-Two? by Temi Oh
For young people dreaming of a life among the stars, becoming an astronaut is the ultimate goal. Following the discovery of an Earth-like planet, six teens are selected for a 20-year journey across the stars to reach Terra-Two. Along with a team of veteran astronauts, they will set up the planet for colonization. But questions and catastrophe plague them. One of their own is lost before the mission even starts; depression and in-fighting threaten to destroy morale; public interest wanes. And worst of all: the question of why they were chosen and if they were ever expected to survive looms over them even as they move closer and closer to their ultimate goal.
TW: suicide, depression, discorded eating, bullying, and death
Crown Chasers by Rebecca Coffindaffer
Alyssa Farshot’s family legacy has her on a collision course with the throne. But Alyssa has never had any interest in following in her uncle’s footsteps in ruling the quadrant. All she wants is adventure. There are a thousand-and-one planets out there — why wouldn’t she want to spent her time exploring all of them in her own ship? But when her uncle’s dying wish pits her against the other prime families in the first crownchase in seven centuries, Alyssa feels compelled to compete. What’s one last adventure, after all? As the competition turns deadly, the future of the whole empire is at stake. Maybe Alyssa can save her people. First, she’ll have to survive her deadliest adventure yet.
Need more teen/YA sci-fi in your life? We’ve got you covered: