Middle Grade Mondays: What is Specultive Fiction?

I would say that 80% of what I read is speculative fiction and 80% of that is middle grade and young adult literature. It’s more than just wanting to know my genre and demographic, I really do love the stuff.

I’ve discovered that many people don’t know what the term “speculative fiction” means – they just know what they like. They might know the broad terms of sci fi, fantasy, and horror, but speculative fiction has come to mean much more.

Basically, if the story is set in a world not based on the reality of our own, it is speculative. It can be an alternate past, present, or future on earth, or it can be set in a completely imaginary world.

“Speculative literature is a catch-all term meant to inclusively span the breadth of fantastic literature, encompassing literature ranging from hard science fiction to epic fantasy to ghost stories to horror to folk and fairy tales to slipstream to magical realism to modern myth-making — and more.”

~Speculative Literature Foundation

I like to think of it in “what if” scenarios. What if vampires existed? (Dracula, Interview with a Vampire, etc) What if an extra-terrestrial landed on earth? (Stranger in a Strange Land, E.T., etc) What if there were a such thing as time travel? (When You Reach Me, The Time Traveler’s Wife). What if there were wizards/dragons/faeries/angels who lived among us? What if the world flooded after an environmental crisis? What if there was another civil war in the U.S.? What if DNA were discovered 100 years earlier than it had been?


No longer do we think of speculative fiction solely in terms of Sci Fi, Fantasy, and Horror. As readers and writers have become more sophisticated, genres have been blended and experimented with. Many people who never would have read a “fantasy” book in the past, because High Fantasy didn’t interest them, may pick up an urban fantasy, or someone who wasn’t interested in the technical jargon of hard Science Fiction, might devour a steampunk novel.

There has been an explosion of speculative fiction in the middle grade and young adult market. The middle grade books tend to focus more on traditional fantasy: dragons, magic, faeries, wizards, demi-gods. But even these are being reinvented.  There’s not a long list of middle grade science fiction (The Search for WandLa is one that comes to mind), but perhaps that will change it the “J.K Rowling of science fiction” appears on the scene.

The young adult trends are more urban / gothic fantasy (vampires, werewolves, angels), dystopian futures (Hunger Games, Maze Runner, Shipbreaker), or blends of fantasy or sci fi with horror (dystopian zombie stories!).  And many times, because the YA audience has more female readers, there is a romance involved (can you say LOVE TRIANGLE?)

Here’s a great link on the subgenres of speculative fiction by author / editor Marj Gilks.

There is no way to list all the fabulous MG and YA speculative fiction books. Not a chance. So, I’ve tried to at least make a list that explores different subgenres of speculative fiction that I’ve enjoyed over the years.

And I fully admit that I’m not a big YA urban fantasy fan. I’m not really into vampires, werewolves, or zombies so I’m not the best person to get a recommendation for those. If you like zombies, The Forest of Hands and Teeth was a pretty good tale. And I’ve yet to read Cherie Priest’s steampunk zombie book Boneshaker, which sounds interesting. As far as urban fantasy, Cassandra Clare is quite popular – she may do for you in a way she doesn’t do for me.

YA (ages 13+)

Anderson, M.T.  – Feed

Adams, Richard – Watership Down

Bacigalupi, Paolo – Shipbreaker

Black, Holly – White Cat

Cinda Williams Chima – Seven Realms series

Collins, Suzanne – Hunger Games Trilogy

Dashner, James – Maze Runner series

Doctorow, Cory – Little Brother

Fisher, Catherine – Incarceron series

Gaiman, Neil – Stardust

Dunn, Katherin – Geek Love

Le Guin, Ursela K. – Earthsea Cycle series

McKillup, Patricia – The Forgotten Beasts of Eld

Snyder, Maria – Poison Study (Study Series #1)

Westerfeld, Scott – Leviathan series, Uglies series

Middle Grade (ages 9-12)

DiCamillo, Kate – The Miraculous Journey of Edward Toulane, The Magician’s Elephant

Furlong, Monica – Wise Child, Juniper

Gaiman, Neil – The Graveyard Book, Coraline

Juster, Norton – The Phantom Tollbooth

L’Engle, Madeleine – A Wrinkle in Time (and the others in the Time series)

Lewis, C.S. – Chronicles of Narnia

Pullman, Philip – His Dark Materials trilogy (upper MG to YA)

Rowling, J.K. – Harry Potter series

Stead, Rebecca – When You Reach Me

Tolkein, J.R.R.  – The Hobbit


Find More Middle Grade Monday bloggers HERE.


  1. Joanne Fritz
    Oct 17, 2011

    That’s a very thought-provoking post, Danika. I love your idea of considering the “what-if” scenarios.

    For urban fantasy, in YA, I would include Melissa Marr’s Wicked Lovely series (faeries). And for MG, I’d add The Bartimaeus Trilogy, among many others!

  2. Pamela Thomson Torres
    Oct 17, 2011

    Thanks so much for the interesting post. I especially appreciate the list of examples. Like Joanne Fritz says the “what if” question really is a great way to classify it.

  3. @Joanne – thanks for the recommendations. And anyone else, feel free to add more! I just picked some off the top of my head.

    I’ve added Wicked Lovely to my “to read” list on GR. I’m always willing to give an author or series a try. I’m actually really hoping to find an urban fantasy I can cheer for.

    The faeries are really getting around. Now kids can grow from Tinkerbell to Rainbow faeries to Brigitta (my faerie book) to Iron Fey / Holly Black / Wicked Lovely.

  4. @Pamela – I actually use “what if” for all kinds of fiction, but it’s especially useful when writing spec fiction. My young students love coming up with “what if” scenarios about the future.

  5. Suma
    Oct 19, 2011

    Fantastic post Danika. Thanks for throwing light into speculative fiction and the awesome list of books.

  6. Deb Marshall
    Oct 20, 2011

    Outstanding post, Danika and one that bears/bares re-reading. Good round up of titles in a field of so many to chose from. BONESHAKER is a book I’ve wanted to read for a bit now, just working through the pile! Thanks so much for this post.

  7. Thanks, Suma and Deb. It’s hard to generate book lists and keep them simple. I was tying to stick with books I personally recommend and give a variety of styles and subgenres to choose from.

  8. Eureka! The “what if…” does it for me. I’m trying to classify my genre and it has been, upper MG mystery with paranormal elements. But there are no ghosts, witches or vampires, just some animals with human souls, vortexes that hold humans hostage and vision inducing potions–“What if.” THanks. I think I got it. But does this include mystery? Can you say speculative fiction, mystery?

  9. Karen, thanks for stopping by.

    When you use the term “speculative fiction” you are talking about a really broad spectrum. All science fiction, fantasy, horror, and combinations of them fall under this umbrella.

    Your story sounds like it could be straight fantasy (contemporary or even urban fantasy?) rather than paranormal. But I’d have to know a lot more about it to say for sure. But it’s safe to call it fantasy!

    Unless it has elements of the traditional mystery genre, I wouldn’t call it a mystery. Every story is a mystery. 🙂

    If you’d like to poke around, here’s a site I use to keep my course notes, links, and resources for my spec fiction classes:



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