Episode 6: “Is There Any Such Thing as Young Adult Science Fiction?”

In 2004, Farah Mendlesohn posed the provocative question “Is there any such thing as children’s science fiction?” Mendlesohn answered that question in 2009 with the claim “Yes, but nowhere near enough” (2009: 4). This Episode of Deletion takes up the issues implicit in Mendlesohn’s question-and-answer in the context of science fiction for young adults, celebrating and interrogating the science fictional possibilities of YA literature.

What kinds of worlds are imagined in fiction for the people who might live to see those imaginings become realities? The spaces of YA science fiction reflect the liminality of young adulthood. Science fictionality often overlaps with speculative fiction and fantasy, all marked by a palpable sense of becoming. These texts have inertia towards the future. They explore what can and might be, and how these connect with what already exists, at the same time remaining anchored in the relatable experiences of the historical “real” of many young adults – friendships, families, and developing self-identity; and also the dangers of being disempowered or even consumed, metaphorically or literally, by a dysfunctional adult world.

In the contributions to this Episode, the question “Is there any such thing as YA science fiction?” is explored tentatively and at times with palpable unease. Nonetheless, that question surfaces in each contribution – creative and critical – through their explorations of genre, identity, and imagined other worlds. In the creative pieces, and the texts chosen for analysis in the critical pieces, the YA perspective is central and valued: these texts are concerned with young adulthood from the point of view of those experiencing it.

Cages (abstract 1) by Giorgio Raffaelli (https://www.flickr.com/photos/iguanajo/9096335652)

Cages (abstract 1) by Giorgio Raffaelli (https://www.flickr.com/photos/iguanajo/9096335652)

Roslyn Weaver’s piece, “Dystopian States of Mind: Identity, Mental Health, and the Private-Public Sphere in The Hunger Games and Chaos Walking” demonstrates the capacity of science fiction for young adults to foreground specific issues which reflect those of its implied readership, such as the disappearing boundaries between the private and the public arena and the problems that result.

In their analysis of Monica Hughes’ Invitation to the Game and M. T. Anderson’s Feed, Rebecca Hutton, Alyson Miller and Elizabeth Braithwaite explore the nexus between nature and the artificial and how that both empowers and disempowers young adults in two highly technological futuristic dystopias.

Lara Hedberg’s “Queer Posthuman Possibility in Malinda Lo’s Adaptation” demonstrates how the posthuman is used to challenge traditional heteronormative modes, and to promote queer possibilities to the young implied reader of Lo’s text. In Hedberg’s reading, the posthuman opens up space to discuss the important question of how the physical human body, and different forms of communication, can challenge normative constructions of identity and sexuality.

Lenise Prater’s piece, “Melissa Marr’s ‘Faerie Romance’: Representing Sexual Violence in YA Faerie Fiction” considers the relationship between science fiction and fantasy before exploring the representation of sexual violence in young adult supernatural fiction, thus locating Prater’s analysis within the broader context of science fictionality explored in this Deletion Episode.

Rebecca Johnston’s short story “She Was a Beauty in a Cage” offers an imaginative response to the question of gender issues in science fiction for young readers. Johnson’s rich prose imagines a young female protagonist who is original, powerful, and a force to be reckoned with.

This Episode concludes with Cathryn Perazzo’s speculative “The Catcher”, a short story anchored in a futuristic world which in some ways is not all that different from this one, but whose terrors are all the more frightening because of their familiarity and the matter-of-fact way in which they are recounted.

Live In Square by Jen Son (https://www.flickr.com/photos/jenson-lee/4215899365)

Live In Square by Jen Son (https://www.flickr.com/photos/jenson-lee/4215899365)

Part of the response Mendlesohn offers to her own question of whether science fiction for young readers exists is to suggest “One way to consider science fiction is as an argument with the universe” (2004: 291). It’s an apt framework for this Episode. Science fiction as an argument. Science fiction as a process of becoming. It meshes well with the notion of young adulthood.

We hope you enjoy the life this Episode gives to the ongoing argument with the universe, and to the invitation that the world needs more science fiction for young readers.

– Elizabeth Braithwaite and Trent Griffiths



Mendlesohn, F. 2004, “Is There Any Such Thing as Children’s Science Fiction?: A Position Piece,” The Lion and the Unicorn 28 (2): 284-313.

Mendlesohn, F. 2009. The Inter-Galactic Playground: A Critical Study of Children’s and Teens’ Science Fiction. Jefferson, N.C., McFarland & Co.


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