For ages, people have been looking up at the stars and wondering what’s out there. Whether you believe your celestial destiny involves being an astronomer or just checking your horoscope on your phone, it’s hard not to look out on the final frontier with a sense of awe. But since most of us won’t be zipping around space anytime soon (unless, of course, we’re selected for the Mars One project), we need something akin to a good ol’ fashioned space opera to take us to the stars. While we wait for our spaceships to come in, here are some of the best YA books starring characters zooming around beyond the stratosphere.
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Across the Universe, by Beth Revis
A dystopian space ship, romance, and mystery combine for a total win. On a mission to populate a distant planet, the spaceship Godspeed carries cryogenically frozen Earthlings deep within a nearly forgotten part of the ship. An authoritative leader runs the show, and his successor, a boy named Elder, stumbles upon the human cargo after someone wakes earth girl Amy up early from her cryogenic slumber. When Amy and Elder discover there’s a murderer running around unfreezing people and leaving them to die, they must team up to expose the Godspeed‘s many secrets. Warning: you should probably go ahead and start preparing yourself for the Season—Godspeed’s version of a mating ritual. It’s most upsetting.
Salvage, by Alexandra Duncan
This book is like the secret love child of The Handmaid’s Tale and Across the Universe, meaning it’s the feminist sci-fi book of your dreams. While a good portion of it takes place on Earth, the story is shaped by Ava’s experiences on Parastrata (the patriarchal deep space merchant ship of your nightmares). At 16, Ava is forced into an arranged engagement with a man from another ship. But when she has a forbidden sexual encounter, she faces banishment and death by being pushed into open space (my literal greatest fear). Ava must figure out how to escape, eventually landing on Earth, where she learns being female doesn’t mean being submissive.
Tin Star, by Cecil Castellucci
Tin Star is a grab-you-by-the-seat-of-your-pants-and-never-let-go tale of survival and revenge set in an isolated part of the galaxy on a space station called Yertina Feray. When Tula questions the decisions of Brother Blue (who pretty much amounts to an evil cult leader), she’s beat up and left for dead on the massive station. Tula adapts as the only human surrounded by aliens, craving nothing more than revenge against Brother Blue and maybe a little companionship. When some humans crash land on the station, Tula concocts a plan to see those desires turn into reality.
Avalon, by Mindee Arnett
Avalon is sort of like Firefly, the teenage years. In a distant future, a group of teenage mercenaries, led by Jeth Seagrave, find themselves working for an intergalactic crime boss/politician. He wants to control metatech technology, which allows for travel faster than the speed of light, and he plans to do it through stealing spaceships. Luckily, his ragtag team of mercenaries are up for the task. But, on the other hand, all Jeth really wants is to buy back his parents’ ship and live free of all this metatech drama. It’s all business as usual until the team is asked to go into what amounts to the intergalactic Bermuda Triangle.
Starglass, by Phoebe North
Terra lives on a spaceship named Asherah, which left Earth 500 years ago and is populated by the Post-Terrestrial Jewish Preservation Society. With an alcoholic father and misgivings over her adult job assignment, Terra is just trying to find her place in a society that strictly controls its people and environment. When Terra discovers a secret rebellion, she finds herself caught up in a much more dangerous situation than she signed up for. It’s a beautiful exploration of love, friendship, and family. And it’s a book about a Jewish spaceship, with a delightful amount of diversity and completely relatable teenage insecurities.
Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card
While there’s some debate over whether Ender’s Game is actually young adult, at this point, it’s sort of earned its spot on any “best books about space” list. After Ender mortally wounds a fellow student, he’s offered a place in Battle School, which is situated in Earth’s orbit. At age 10, he moves on to Command School, which is located on an asteroid, where he must endure what he believes are simulations by directing spacecrafts against an alien fleet. It’s a book about fully realized, intelligent children who struggle with big ethical dilemmas in a morally complex and relatable way, and a true classic in the genre.