New York City in Children’s and Young Adult SFF

Annika Barranti Klein

Contributing Editor

Annika Barranti Klein likes books, obviously.   Twitter: @noirbettie

The City We Became, By N.K. Jemisin.

Three-time Hugo Award-winning and New York Times bestselling author N.K. Jemisin crafts her most incredible novel yet, a story of culture, identity, magic, and myths in contemporary New York City. Every great city has a soul. Some are ancient as myths, and others are as new and destructive as children. New York? She's got six. "It's a glorious fantasy, set in that most imaginary of cities, New York. It's inclusive in all the best ways, and manages to contain both Borges and Lovecraft in its fabric, but the unique voice and viewpoint are Jemisin's alone." -- Neil Gaiman

It’s not exactly difficult to find New York–set science fiction and fantasy. I would bet cash money it’s tied with London for most often fictionalized western city. But just because it’s been done doesn’t mean it’s always done well, and I have a soft spot for my hometown. What follows are my favorite fantastical novels for young readers set in New York City. Some are set entirely in New York, some have portals in Central Park or upstate, and others are New York–adjacent, but all of them capture the New York where I grew up, in one way or another.

Young Adult New York City Fantasy

The Diviners (Series) by Libba Bray

In 1926, Evie O’Neill is sent from her small hometown to stay with her occult-obsessed uncle in New York City. When they are called to the scene of a murder, her own occult powers might come in handy to catch a serial killer—if she’s willing to reveal herself.

There are four books in the series.

the hazel woodThe Hazel Wood (Series) by Melissa Albert

In The Hazel Wood, Alice leaves New York in search of her mother and has to go into the Hazel Wood to find her, and learn her own origin. In The Night Country, the Hazel Wood comes to New York and is killing off people associated with it—people like Alice.

This is a duology (so far).

A Room Away From The Wolves by Nova Ren Suma

Is a ghost story sci-fi/fantasy? Well, I am making this list and I say it is. Bina runs away to Catherine House in New York City, a boarding house with many secrets.

This book is a standalone.

The Shadowshaper Cypher by Daniel José Older

Sierra Santiago’s abuelo was part of a secret supernatural order called the Shadowshapers, and someone is targeting them. Sierra learns that she possesses the Shadowshaper abilities, and she has to save her family, the Shadowshapers, and New York, from a Shadowshaper determined to be the only Shadowshaper, by any means necessary.

This is a trilogy.

Middle Grade New York City Fantasy

Dactyl Hill SquadDactyl Hill Squad (Series) by Daniel José Older

As in Shadowshaper, New York is a character in Dactyl Hill Squad, but this time it’s 1863 and there are dinosaurs. The Civil War is raging, the Draft Riots are breaking out, and a group of orphans flees to a small neighborhood in Brooklyn—Dactyl Hill—where Black and brown folks have created a safe haven. They work with the Vigilance Committee to get ready to go rescue their fellow orphans from an evil magistrate.

This is a duology (so far); in the sequel, the gang goes to Louisiana.

The Gauntlet coverThe Gauntlet (Series) by Karuna Riazi

These middle grade portal fantasies leave New York fairly quickly, but they both begin in the city, following the stories of Farrah and younger brother Ahmed into a fantastical, Bangladesh-inspired game world where they must complete tasks to stay alive and get back home. The magical world of The Gauntlet of Blood and Sand shines in The Gauntlet, while the New York setting is the strongest part of The Battle, grounding Ahmed’s story even after he and friend Winnie are drawn into the world of his game.

This is a duology.

Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond (Series) by Sayantani Dasgupta

Yes, I am a New Yorker born and raised, and yes, I am including a New Jersey–set series in this list of New York–set books. Parsippany, New Jersey, is a suburb of Newark, a major city across the Hudson River from Manhattan. In The Serpent’s Secret, Kiranmala saves her parents and all of New Jersey when a rakkhosh demon attacks. Listen, New York won’t stand a chance if anything happens to New Jersey. That’s just facts.

This is a trilogy (so far).

Sorcery Hall by Suzie McKee Charnas

In The Bronze King, The Silver Glove, and The Golden Thread, Valentine Marsh discovers that magic is real, her gran has been keeping secrets, and bits of New York City are coming to life. Or, more accurately, they’re disappearing. Like the entire bronze statue of King Jagiello in Central Park.

This is a completed trilogy (and the oldest books on the list).

Gregor the Overlander book coverThe Underland Chronicles by Suzanne Collins

Gregor’s father disappeared, and when Gregor himself falls through a grate in his apartment building laundry room, he realizes there are strange forces at work, and he is in the Underland for a reason. Not only is there a prophesy about him, but he sees a chance to rescue his father.

This is a five book series.

York (Series) by Laura Ruby

This duology, consisting of York: The Shadow Cypher and York: The Clockwork Ghost, follows New York City from 1798, when a puzzle, known as the Old York Cipher, was laid out in architecture, to the present day, when three friends need to prove the puzzle is real—and solve it—to save their homes from development.