Books appropriate for a middle school boy
December 15, 2014 7:14 AM   Subscribe

I've been tasked with finding my 13-year-old relative a good science fiction book.

According to his mom, he's a very good reader and often reads adult books, but the parents have a rule about nothing sexually explicit (not sure how enforced that really is, but I don't need to be the one to buy him a sexy book for Christmas!). I was thinking about Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer, which I don't think has any sex that I recall, but maybe that's too scary for a teenager? I honestly don't have a good sense of that age group as most of my friends have very tiny kids. Another thought I had was The Here and Now by Ann Brashares, which does have some sexy moments but is also definitely a YA book rather than an adult book. Any thoughts on whether either of these would be appropriate choices, or alternate suggestions?
posted by rainbowbrite to Shopping (31 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
When I was in the throes of puberty, I remember immensely enjoying A Wrinkle in Time and Ender's Game. No sexually explicit stuff in either, I recall.
posted by horizonseeker at 7:21 AM on December 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

I love "Ready Player One", and I think your 13 year old would as well. Tons of great references to games, music, pop culture, etc. I can't remember anything sexually explicit, but hopefully folks will correct me on this one, as I'd hate to steer you wrong.
posted by John Kennedy Toole Box at 7:23 AM on December 15, 2014 [4 favorites]

I enjoyed Ender's Game as a young teen as well. I also remember liking a book in middle school called Singularity by William Sleator.
posted by Night_owl at 7:23 AM on December 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

William Sleator is a fantastic suggestion. Interstellar Pig remains one of my favorite books ever.
posted by something something at 7:36 AM on December 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

I enjoyed Hitchhiker's guide to the Galaxy at that age. Also, Have Space Suit Will Travel is a YA classic but it might seem dated.
posted by bdc34 at 7:38 AM on December 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

If fantasy would be ok, then now is a good age for Pratchett.
posted by bq at 7:38 AM on December 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

One of the coolest books with a YA protagonist ever: Impulse.

Does he like zombies? Arcadium.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:41 AM on December 15, 2014

At that age I discovered the Pern books by Anne McCaffrey. Nothing really sexually explicit but there are the mating flights. YMMV.

I also really loved the Wheel of Time books by Robert Jordan.

Big series really got me going, as I could crank through some books.

Snow day, reading all day, cook up some stew or make some klah to feel like you are in a tavern or weyr.

Man, I miss being 13 sometimes.

On preview, also nthing Hitchhikers Guide.
posted by PlutoniumX at 7:43 AM on December 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Rendezvous with Rama (by Arthur c Clarke) is a good book and starts a great series.
posted by chasles at 7:45 AM on December 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Cornelius Chronicles by Michael Moorcock pretty much blew my mind when I was 13. It may have some sex and drugs in it. Not sure if that's a stopper for this situation.
posted by alms at 7:46 AM on December 15, 2014

Ian McDonald's Everness books are really good young-adult SF.
posted by pipeski at 8:18 AM on December 15, 2014

I love The Forever War by Joe Haldeman
posted by H21 at 8:18 AM on December 15, 2014

Red Rising by Pierce Brown might be a good fit. A sixteen-year-old miner from the lowest caste (Red) of a spacefaring society swears to destroy his rulers after they execute his wife in front him. He's trained and surgically altered to pass for one of the ruling class, the Golds, and infiltrates them. It's the first of a trilogy, and the sequel (Golden Son) comes out this month.

I got a copy for free at the 40th World Fantasy Convention as part of the souvenir book bag, and devoured it in three nights. No explicit sex, but lots of violence.
posted by starbreaker at 8:21 AM on December 15, 2014

Cats Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut.
posted by Mchelly at 8:25 AM on December 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Martian might work. I don't recall any sex in it, although the first line is "I'm f--ked." Still, it's a pretty easy read, and it just came out this year. It's about a member of the first manned mission to Mars getting accidentally stranded, and how he manages to survive.
posted by suelac at 8:35 AM on December 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Dragonrider of Pern books by McCaffrey has some really sketchy gender and sexual stuff and normalizing MEN ARE LIKE THIS and WOMEN ARE LIKE THAT. Plus, off the top of my head, the big romantic reunion scene in the most famous book features the heroine sobbing in relief while saying that she is afraid of being physically disciplined by her partner like he usually does when she has been ~ headstrong ~ and ~ impetuous~. But this time he doesn't! Because he loves her! And she is a heroine! Gosh, isn't he dreamy.

And in the next book, the dreamy sexy down-to-earth brother of said dreay dude rapes the heroine of the book because she just needs to get over her PTSD, and she wants him, so what's the problem? And it works!

And that's before the dragon-induced nonconsensual brain control sex that permeates a lot of the books.

So yeah, I'd think twice about giving the Pern books generally to a teenage boy. The Dragonsong books are a little less gross, explicitly YA oriented, and might be a better fit, especially if your relative is into music.

This is an extensive Goodreads rec list for sci fi YA of the galactic space opera kind. While I haven't read this by Garth Nix, his fantasy YA books are modern classics of the genre and super-awesome.
posted by joyceanmachine at 8:35 AM on December 15, 2014 [4 favorites]

Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, the whole series.

Nthing all of Heinlien's YA stuff.
Have Space Suit Will Travel, Space Cadet are great. But I loved Podkayne of Mars because of the female protagonist. I read these when I was a young teen, so they're all relics, but MAN are they good!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:39 AM on December 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Seconding Cat's Cradle. Also other Vonnegut, e.g. Player Piano.
posted by alms at 8:48 AM on December 15, 2014

He's the perfect age for the Tripods series by John Christopher. Aliens have taken over Earth; all humans are fitted with mind-control devices at age 14. Will Parker is 13 years old and decides to run away to avoid being Capped; together with his Henry and a French boy nicknamed Beanpole, they escape to the White Mountains. In The City of Gold and Lead, they infiltrate a Tripod city to find out more about them, and in The City of Gold and Lead, they fight to destroy the Tripods. No sex (hardly any female characters, alas), and a great read.
posted by mogget at 9:21 AM on December 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

"The Martian" - sooooo good
posted by Ausamor at 10:08 AM on December 15, 2014

Ready Player One is fun, but all the pop-culture references are from the 80s and they would probably fly over his head.

Forever War is a classic, but there is sex. It's not explicit, but it's more than implied.

It's always a good age for Pratchett. nthing HHGttG.

The Leviathan, Behemoth, Goliath books by Scott Westerfeld are YA Steampunk and reasonably entertaining.

I haven't read the Divergent series, but they seem like an obvious choice. Perhaps someone who has can comment.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 10:26 AM on December 15, 2014

Alan Mendelson, The Boy From Mars
by Daniel Pinkwater
This was my favorite book at that age, and is still on my top ten list.
posted by TheCoug at 10:48 AM on December 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Nthing Pratchett. He's not precisely SF, but still Pratchett is the easiest choice and won't go awry (unless he owns the book already).

Nthing Heinlein juveniles, because I remember them fondly and because he might not bump into them on his own.

If the kid is a reader, you might consider getting 2-4 used books instead of one new one. That would have been my preference at that age (and now, too, for that matter).
posted by mattu at 11:25 AM on December 15, 2014

Classic science fiction should work pretty well for your requirements. Lots of big ideas, easy to read, not very long and no explicit sex.

I don't recall any sex in the original Foundation trilogy (I think there was some in Foundation's Edge and Foundation and Earth however).

Asimov's robot books didn't have any sex until later on as well.

Arthur C. Clarke's The Fountain's of Paradise is a great read and sex-free.

Did Dune have sex? I think the later books did but not the original.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 11:30 AM on December 15, 2014

Dune had a few references to the Baron's sexual proclivities, but no sex that I recall-- Not with Paul and Chani, not with the Duke and Jessica. When Paul is paired with Irulan at the end, there's talk of heir-making, but nothing explicit or sexy.

The Martian has a scene in which the main character has a suggestive text chat with the expedition's sexiest member, but that's it.

I was going to recommend The Sprawl Trilogy (Neuromancer, Count Zero, Mona Lisa Overdrive) by William Gibson, but each book had a short sex scene. I was crazy for those books when I was 13-- I can't really imagine what they look like for a modern 13-year-old, though.
posted by Sunburnt at 11:56 AM on December 15, 2014

I feel like 13 or a little before is when I started really wanting to read SF Books For Adults as a reader, so I think Vandermeer is a good choice.

Slightly older YA, but I read M. T. Anderson's postcyberpunk-datamining-teen body horror-YA-whatever Feed when it came out (I would have been 14 or so) and I think it's aged well--and not just because it's about the horrors of online persona commodification. It's conceptually pretty grown-up, more contemporary than Heinlein (don't give him a Heinlein juvenile, seriously), there's Teen Friend Problems and Teen Romantic And Physical Attraction taken seriously but no sex scenes.
posted by The Bridge on the River Kai Ryssdal at 12:21 PM on December 15, 2014

I dunno how I would feel about Dune anymore. I absolutely loved the series as a middle schooler. The stuff with the Baron being gay and Herbert punctuating all his evil acts with him raping a boy or whatever went way over my head as a sixth-grader but I don't know if it'd be something I'd give to a kid without wanting to talk through it now.
posted by The Bridge on the River Kai Ryssdal at 12:27 PM on December 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Orbital Resonance is not only a classic of YA, it is also becomes a nonpreachy exploration of how to be a good person.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 4:27 PM on December 15, 2014

Raising Stony Mayhall. Morals. Ethics. Family. Zombies.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 4:29 PM on December 15, 2014

The books I loved most as a 13 year old which have stayed with me the longest (which are also free of explicit sex) are books by Ursula K. Le Guin. Now, some of her books have sex, but you're safe enough with the Earthsea books. Le Guin expands teenage minds in all the right ways. If he likes Earthsea, he can be trusted to find the more brainbending stuff she wrote.
posted by Kattullus at 2:39 AM on December 16, 2014

Lots of great answers, but I'm marking 'best answer' for the book I ended up choosing, Feed. I remember reading that book when it came out and I think it would be perfect. I think it has the right balance of being old enough that he probably has not read it (as is the case with most of the popular YA scifi that's coming out right now) but with a modern-feeling plot/writing style that I think he'll connect to. (I ran the Martian by the parents and it was vetoed.) Thanks to all for the suggestions!
posted by rainbowbrite at 6:53 AM on December 17, 2014

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