Riot Headline 10 Exciting Books to Read this Summer

Out of This World: New MG & YA Sci-Fi and Fantasy

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Anne Mai Yee Jansen


Anne Mai Yee Jansen is a literature and ethnic studies professor and a lifelong story addict. She exists on a steady diet of books and hot chocolate, with a heaping side of travel whenever possible. Originally hailing from the sun and sandstone of southern California, she currently resides with her partner, offspring, and feline companion in the sleepy mountains of western North Carolina.

With so much amazing sci-fi and fantasy being published, the middle grade (MG) and young adult (YA) literary scene is bursting with amazing options. For young readers, these books offer new, alternate, and expanded worlds to expand their imaginations.

For those of us who grew up during a time when sci-fi and fantasy (SFF) were stigmatized and categories like MG and YA were barely even blips on the literary radar, SFF offerings were thin. Sure, there were some great ones out there, but SFF books aimed specifically at younger audiences weren’t nearly as prevalent as they are today. Luckily, today is when we are.

Now the bookshelves are so full of fantastic SFF for MG and YA readers (not to mention us adults!) that it can be downright daunting to decide what to read.

Not to worry! I’ve unearthed some amazing sci-fi and fantasy novels for middle grade and young adult readers to help you on your readerly journey.

Of course, even though sci-fi and fantasy are too often lumped together into one category (ahem, SFF), there’s a lot of wonderful work being done in both genres. While fantasy appears to be more prevalent than sci-fi, especially where MG books are concerned, I’ve tried to balance the books on this list so that you can find some options that work for whatever you’re craving. Happy reading!

New Middle Grade SFF Books

Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun by Tolá Okogwu book cover

Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun by Tọlá Okogwu

Onyeka doesn’t just have great hair; she has magical hair. It’s always drawn unwanted attention her way, but when her best friend Cheyenne almost drowns, Onyeka’s hair saves her. Literally: it reaches out and pulls Cheyenne out of the water. This is how Onyeka learns she’s a Solari — a Nigerian with super powers — and ends up attending the Academy of the Sun so she can be trained to use her powers. But shortly after she arrives at the Academy, Onyeka finds herself caught up in a far larger conflict.

The Barren Grounds by David A. Robertson book cover

The Barren Grounds by David A. Robertson

The Barren Grounds is the first book of the Misewa Saga trilogy (and book two, The Great Bear, was released earlier this month). It centers on Morgan and Eli, who meet in a foster home. Both kids are trying to navigate their Indigenous identities and new living situation when they discover a magic portal in the attic. It’s no wardrobe to Narnia, but this portal takes them to a frozen land called Askí, where they meet a hunter called Ochek who is trying to keep his community, Misewa, from starving. As winter descends upon Askí, Morgan and Eli have to help Ochek before it’s too late for all of them.

Witchlings by Claribel A. Ortega book cover

Witchlings by Claribel A. Ortega

Seven Salazer is 12 years old, and she’s ready to take part in the Black Moon Ceremony and get placed into a coven. Unfortunately for Seven, she’s not placed in a coven like all the other witchlings. This makes her a Spare, which means her magic won’t be as powerful and she’ll be ostracized by the community. But Seven is determined: she tries forming her own coven with other Spares, and when that doesn’t work, they are assigned an “impossible task” that they must either complete to become full witches or fail and lose all their powers. Witchlings will make you laugh even as it’ll have you rooting for the misfits at its core.

The Marvellers by Dhonielle Clayton book cover

The Marvellers by Dhonielle Clayton

The Arcanum Training Institute is a multicultural school of magic located in the clouds (yup, you read that right!). Ella Durand is their first Conjuror, and at 11 years old she finds herself not only a new student in a new school, but a student whose power is highly mistrusted by her peers and teachers alike. Of course, a year at magic school wouldn’t be complete without an escaped criminal and a missing teacher to add to Ella’s woes. The first of the Marvellerverse series, The Marvellers is a real page-turner that will keep young readers engrossed from start to finish.

Molly and the Machine by Erik Jon Slangerup book cover

Molly and the Machine by Erik Jon Slangerup

Molly and the Machine takes readers back to the 1980s in the small town of Far Flung Falls. The town has a problem: kids are disappearing. When Molly McQuirter’s little brother Wally is taken by a giant robot, she’s unwittingly drawn into a dangerous mystery. Slangerup’s writing is laced with humor, and Molly’s journey on her wonderfully named bicycle, Pink Lightning, will have readers rooting for her as she works to get to the heart of the situation. Luckily, she’s not alone: her rather enthusiastic pets have come along for the adventure!

Jennifer Chan is Not Alone by Tae Keller book cover

Jennifer Chan is Not Alone by Tae Keller

Jennifer Chan is Not Alone is so much about the social struggles of middle school. It grapples with bullying…and aliens. Like, UFO-variety aliens. Jennifer Chan believes in aliens and, as you can imagine, that doesn’t get her the good kind of attention. When she goes missing, Mallory Moss goes on a rescue mission. Mallory wants to find out what happened to Jennifer, but she also has some lingering guilt because of how she bullied Jennifer before she disappeared. As Mallory attempts to solve the mystery of Jennifer’s whereabouts, she has to confront the impact of her actions.

New Young Adult SFF Books

Akata Woman by Nnedi Okorafor book cover

The Nsibidi Scripts series by Nnedi Okorafor

The third book (but not the last) in Nnedi Okorafor’s acclaimed Nsibidi Scripts series, Akata Woman was released earlier this year. The series follows Sunny Nwazue, a U.S.-born Nigerian who discovers she has magical powers and helps the world avoid an apocalypse. Now, in Akata Woman, Sunny is more confident and powerful…which is good, since she’s faced with the task of finding a hidden object in another realm. It’s a perilous mission, which basically means you’ll be glued to the book from start to finish.

A Snake Falls to Earth by Darcie Little Badger book cover

A Snake Falls to Earth by Darcie Little Badger

This novel is part fantasy, part fable, and maybe something else altogether. Whatever genre it is, it’s an incredible read. It focuses on Nina and Oli. Nina lives in Texas and is a 16-year-old human girl; Oli lives in the spirit world and is a cottonmouth person. Challenges in both realms bring them together, among them the impending death of one of Oli’s friends (caused by reckless human environmental activity) and Nina’s grandmother’s mysterious sickness. Told in alternating chapters, A Snake Falls to Earth is a mesmerizing YA read.

The Lost Dreamer by Lizz Huerta book cover

The Lost Dreamer by Lizz Huerta

Part one of a duology, The Lost Dreamer is a rich work of what might be considered YA feminist fantasy. It follows Indir, a young Dreamer with a couple of big secrets, and Saya, another seeing who has never been trained as a Dreamer. As Indir struggles to keep her secrets and Saya begins to discover the secrets her mother has kept from her, both characters find themselves in serious danger. Two of my favorite things about this book are the characters (specifically Indir and Saya) and the amazing worldbuilding. Seriously, once you get into it, you won’t be able to stop.

The Loophole by Naz Kutub book cover

The Loophole by Naz Kutub

Sy is 17, shy, and gay. He’s also Muslim, and his family isn’t exactly accepting of his sexuality — or his boyfriend, Farouk. When Farouk takes off on his own adventures, Sy’s life takes an unexpected turn: a customer grants him three wishes in exchange for his help…and it seems like she just might be a magical being. Together, they embark on a global adventure in search of Farouk. What follows is Sy’s journey of self-discovery — with a magical infusion, of course — making this subtle fantasy novel a powerful exploration of one character’s queer coming-of-age.

See You Yesterday by Rachel Lynn Solomon book cover

See You Yesterday by Rachel Lynn Solomon

There are bad days, and then there are bad days like Barrett Bloom’s first day of college…and then Barrett wakes up the next day only to discover she’s caught in a time loop. That’s right, she’s somehow forced to relive her first day of college, again and again. And it turns out she’s not the only one! The obnoxious guy from her physics class has been stuck in the same day for months, and now the two of them have to work together to figure out how to get unstuck in time.

Cinder and Glass by Melissa De La Cruz book cover

Cinder and Glass by Melissa De La Cruz

Melissa De La Cruz’s YA reworking of the Cinderella story is a gripping fantasy romance read. The year is 1682 and Cendrillon de Louvois, AKA Cinder, hates her life. She’s living in classic Cinderella conditions (dead father, nasty stepmother, mean stepsisters), and the series of fancy balls and other events intended to help Prince Louis find a wife are her only way out of her dire circumstances. To further complicate matters, the prince isn’t exactly a great guy and Cinder actually prefers his brother Auguste. Cinder and Glass‘s tangled love triangle and compelling characters make this a hard book to put down.

Fantasizing About More Books Like These?

Dream your way through these lists of middle grade fantasy books or YA sci-fi books. Alternately, give this list of queer post-apocalyptic YA reads a try! If you still can’t find a selection, there’s bound to be something great for you on this list of 100 inclusive YA SFF books!