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This came to mind because I’m rereading one of them right now, and it’s amazing. I am astonished that it didn’t get lots of awards and that it doesn’t have (so far as I know) legions of passionate fans. Please correct me if I’m wrong; I’m certainly one of them!

So here it is: My number 1

The Gift Moves, by Steve Lyon. “Soft” Science Fiction

In the southeastern part of what used to be the United States, a young girl called Path Down the Mountain is entering the second stage of her life. She is leaving her family and going to the Banks to become a weaver’s hand. Here is her leavetaking. Path is visiting the two women who taught her to weave.

I opened my hand to give away my last gift, the shuttle they had made for me
two years ago when I came to live with them. It was the last piece of the life I
knew, and I put it in Blue Leaf’s hand. “The gift moves,” I said, somehow letting out the words and keeping in the tears.
“It moves,” she replied. (The Gift Moves, hardcover, page 3)

cover, The Gift Moves

Path is living in a strange and lovely world where batteries grow on trees, buses are made of termite colonies, and cats can talk. This is no dystopia, thank heavens, but it’s no utopia, either. Instead, it’s a believable society with its own strengths and weaknesses. In this future world, much that is true and beautiful has been lost – for example, Path has no idea what a “chapel” is. But much that is true and beautiful has been retained. The story takes place over the course of a month, while Path settles into her new life with her stern teacher, Heron, and while the people of the Banks prepare for the midsummer festival and the turning of the year. This is a story about love and loss, about how hurts get handed down in families (both natural and adoptive) and how they are overcome, and, most of all, about two young people struggling to find their own place in their world. Those young people are Path and Bird Speaks, a boy her age who becomes interested in her.

If you’re intrigued by alternate societies and like stories about real people, you should love this book.




2. Winter of Fire, by Sherryl Jordan. Dystopian fantasy

Cover Winter of Fire

After an unnamed disaster has blotted out the sun, humanity is divided into two groups, the Chosen of God, and the Quelled. Elsha is a daughter of the Quelled, condemned to spend her life mining firestones for the Chosen. On her 16th birthday, she dares to idle in the mines. She is to be harshly punished the next day — but, as she awaits her punishment, a stranger calls her. Her life has been saved. Instead of being worked to death, she is to serve the firelord, a man who is specially gifted at locating firestones.

The firelord, an older man, is kind and wise. He does not think less of Elsha for being a woman, nor for being Quelled. Still, because she is a woman, there are things he will not teach her. And her position now takes her among the Chosen. Unlike the firelord and his disciple, Amasai, many of the chosen look at Elsha with hatred and contempt. Can Elsha convince the firelord that all people should be equal? And, if she does, can Elsha and the firelord change their world peacefully? Or will the Chosen react to change with violence? Elsha, passionate and stubborn, is a vivid character. So is the firelord, and the world Jordan builds up is convincing. Change does not come easily, nor without pain and loss, but there is hope in the end. I also like that prejudice in Elsha’s world is not based on race. The firelord is dark-skinned; others of the Chosen are fair. Elsha herself is fair-skinned and blond, but that doesn’t determine her status, or lack of it. Quelling is arbitrary. This reflects very clearly how foolish and arbitrary racial prejudice is in our own world.

3. Cold Tom, by Sally Prue (Elves and Fairies)

Cover Cold Tom

There have been several novels based on the ballad “Tam Lin”, and I think all the ones I’ve read have been excellent, but Cold Tom may be the most unique retelling of all.

As the story begins, young Tom has first failed in, and then spoiled, a hunt. Unlike the rest of the tribe, he is slow and clumsy, and he’s come too close to revealing the people to the demons. The punishment is clear. His own parents must kill him, thus ridding the tribe of a danger to them. To save his life, Tom flees to the city of the demons and tries to find shelter there. The “demons”, of course, are human beings – heavy, loud, powerful creatures who lack the abilities Tom and the rest of the tribe share. They are bound with slave chains, horrible to Tom, and they seem to want to bind him, too. He has no use for these things called “love” and “friendship”, and wants only to be free. But, if he doesn’t accept the help of two human children his age and of their eccentric neighbor, Tom will surely die. Fascinating, thought-provoking, and chilling. The fairies in this book are actually terrifying—as they ought to be! As a teen reviewer said, this looks like a book for young children, but it’s not. It’s well worth reading and thinking about.

4. Ranvan: Magic Nation by Diana Wieler (Urban Fantasy)

Cover Magic Nation

With the current craze in comic books, maybe these books will be reissued. I hope so! Magic Nation is the third in a trilogy that takes young Rhan Van through four tumultuous years of his life, from a fifteen-year-old high school freshman to a young man of nineteen headed for college and a possible career. Rhan has a couple of superpowers. When the universe wants him to be, he can be incredibly strong and fast and hit any target. But his real weapon is a videocamera. As Magic Nation begins, he is on his way to the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology in Calgary to begin his adult life. He has no use any more for the “Magic Nation” (what he called fantasy games about superheroes when he was a little boy.) He’s going to leave all that behind—if the universe will let him.

But, as one of his professors tells him, a camera is also power. People believe what they see. Rhan therefore has a responsibility to tell the truth, for he can shape peoples' views of reality. That's truly a superpower, and, at key points, Rhan has to decide what he'll do with it.

This is one of the two best novels I've read on what it actually feels like to be starting out in college, making adult decisions for the first time in your life (the other is "Tam Lin" by Pamela Dean). As is true throughout the series, the characters are wonderfully real. We experience Rhan's first semester with him, understand his thinking when he makes bad decisions, and cheer him on when he decides to face the consequences and keep fighting. In addition to being a story about a young knight defeating the bad guys, this is a story of a young man healing from loss and finding home and family. The ending is very touching. This book gains in power and depth if you’ve read the earlier books and know who some characters Rhan loves actually are. But it stands alone. If you have any taste for modern fantasy set in the real world, you should give it a try.

As I said at the beginning, these are just a few SF and Fantasy books for teens that I truly think should have a wider audience. I’m sure there are many more. What do you think? Are there any books you would recommend? I look forward to your comments.

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