M.K. England's Top Cosmic Reads for YA Readers

Posted by Goodreads on December 1, 2018
M.K. England
Space: It's not just the final frontier, but the starry stage of many current and upcoming YA sci-fi titles, including debut author M.K. England's The Disasters.

The title alludes to England's motley crew of interstellar misfits, one of whom is Nax Hall. Among the hotshot pilot's long list of failures is his expulsion from the prestigious Ellis Station Academy—a feat he accomplishes in less than 24 hours.

Here England reveals a few details about her first book, the origin of her love affair with science fiction, and the current state of sci-fi in the YA universe. As a nod to her alter ego as a YA librarian, she also shared her top recommendations for books that will launch readers into infinity and beyond.


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Goodreads: Word on the street is that you have a profound love for sci-fi and outer space. Can you tell us how this love affair came about?

M.K. England: I grew up on the Space Coast of Florida watching space shuttle launches from my backyard. My parents worked for United Space Alliance, a contractor of NASA—not as rocket scientists or anything, but it meant the acronym soup of the aerospace industry was a constant at our dinner table. My dad introduced me to Isaac Asimov's fiction and nonfiction at a young age, and we used to design our own spaceships and mull over the challenges of space travel together.

I also became obsessed with Star Wars at an early age. We're talking VHS tapes worn out from constant watching every day before school, collecting those Pizza Hut stickers, pretending my bike was an X-wing, and that the sewer covers housed giant space slugs. Legend has it that my parents' first date was to see A New Hope in theaters, so I come by it rightly.

GR: Congratulations on your debut! The Disasters has been billed as Guardians of the Galaxy meets The Breakfast Club. Would you say that's a fair assessment?

MKE: Thank you so much! I'll freely admit (don't hate me) that I actually hadn't seen The Breakfast Club when we first pitched it that way. But I watched it while we were out on submission and went, "Oooh, I get it!"

Funny thing about Guardians, though: Most of my book ideas start as a vague little seed that appears out of nowhere and sits around for months or years until something gives it a push. In this case, the seed was "a hotshot pilot fails out of a space academy on his first day," and the push was Guardians of the Galaxy. I saw it in the theater in summer 2014 and walked out with Nax's voice totally solid in my mind.

GR: What were the influences behind The Disasters?

MKE: I think The Disasters was born out of my love of the X-Wing series of Star Wars books by Michael A. Stackpole and Aaron Allston. I read those so much as a teen and young adult that my copies are falling apart!

In general, I've always loved adventurous books (and space books specifically) because they made me feel so powerful and ambitious, like the whole galaxy was spread out before me, full of possibilities. Those worlds were largely inhabited by straight white cisgender neurotypical men, though.

There were some awesome women, for sure, but they were rarely narrators. And no one was ever queer. I really wanted to write a book for everyone who's like me, who's fired up to take on the galaxy with their bare hands but doesn't fit the typical hero mold.

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GR: The words rejects and failures have been used to describe both Nax and his motley crew of fellow washouts. What do you hope readers will take away from these underdogs?

MKE: No matter who you are or what people say about you, you have power. You have a voice and agency, and you can rise above the way others define you…or the way you've defined yourself in the past. Learning to forgive and trust yourself after internalizing that narrative of failure is so difficult, but it's maybe the most powerful thing of all.

GR: You've mentioned that YA fantasy never goes out of style, but YA sci-fi has always struggled. Can you elaborate on this?

MKE: Sci-fi and fantasy get lumped together, but they're treated and perceived very differently in YA. This is an eternal frustration for me, especially considering the popularity of sci-fi movies, TV shows, and video games! Non-dystopian sci-fi has always had a hard time in the YA market, especially stuff set in space. We've had a few big ones here and there, like Illuminae and Across the Universe (published almost five years apart), but the vast majority of hit YA books these days are fantasy or contemporary.

I'm a YA librarian, so I asked some of my library teens why fantasy feels so much more approachable for them, and general consensus is that science fiction is considered "confusing" or "complicated." In my mind, the only functional difference between magic and technology is the method of delivery, and there are plenty of magic systems out there that make my head spin with their complexity! If anyone can put their finger on why sci-fi doesn't get the same reception as fantasy, let me know.

GR: Where do you see YA sci-fi going? What do you hope to see more of?

MKE: I think we're already starting to see some fun blending of other genres into sci-fi. Somaiya Daud's Mirage is a fantasy set in space, and Lyndsay Ely's Gunslinger Girl is a futuristic western, etc. My own second book, coming out in January 2020, is a futuristic world with magic. I imagine we'll see an increase in environmental themes baked into our settings, too, as we feel greater and greater effects of climate change and sea level rise.

I would love to see more pure enthusiasm for the wonder of space! More thrilling adventures that show us the excitement and possibilities that come with science and exploration! I'm terrified of the general disregard (in the U.S. especially) for scientific fact and the work of researchers, and I really do think science fiction can play a role in promoting science literacy and encouraging engagement with science.

GR: Which sci-fi books would you recommend for our YA fans?

I'm gonna focus specifically on books set mostly in space because they're my favorite and need love! It's so hard to narrow it down, but here are some recent ones I wanna scream about:

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The galaxy's most notorious outlaw, Ia is a complicated and compelling main character, there's amazing friendship, lovely handling of currently relevant themes, a slow-burn romance, and fast-paced action! Something for everyone. Number one rec, for sure.


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A cruel princess and the girl kidnapped to be her body double, unlikely friendships, rich cultural details, and political unrest about to boil over. This book is the first step into a vast world with so much potential! Looking forward to the next one.


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Great characters and cutthroat competition! This book says brilliant things about systemic poverty and has a cast of characters that'll make your heart overflow with empathy and feels (whether they be hugging feels or punch-in-the-face feels).


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If you love a large crew of conflicting personalities, fantasy tropes in space, and some light romance you can root for, get you some Heart of Iron.


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I love to live vicariously through this book. Cassandra goes through a competitive program to become an astronaut for a company that specifically needs young people. Brilliant girl in STEM! Ace rep! Cool world-building! Space!


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Don't go into this one expecting lots of shooting and shenanigans, though the beginning may mislead you! This one is much more about characters and world-building once you get into the meat of it. I love Zara, the main character, and really enjoy the friendships in this book. I love to hand this one to my library teens who don't like romance.


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Claudia Gray writes amazing Star Wars tie-ins. I read this one before The Last Jedi came out, and I'm so glad I did, because you know who Leia meets and befriends as a teenager? VICE ADMIRAL HOLDO. I had SO MANY FEELINGS in the theater as a result. Also try her adult Leia-centric book, Bloodline. All the Carrie Fisher feels. RIP, space mom.


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Do I even have to mention this? We all know this series, right? I'm a total sucker for interesting formatting and epistolary stories, and this series is beautifully designed. The audio versions are spectacularly produced, too. Thrilling, creepy, great characters, satisfying series closer, definitely recommended.


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A very different kind of sci-fi read! Complex and beautiful, a slow unfurling that leads to a dramatic end. Nature and animals are a big part of this one. You know me by this point: strong friendships and smart girls in science, I'm sold.




M.K. England's The Disasters will be available December 18. Don't forget to add it to your Want to Read shelf! Be sure to also read more of our exclusive author interviews and get more great book recommendations.

Comments Showing 1-3 of 3 (3 new)

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message 1: by Lynn J (new)

Lynn J Thank you for all the great suggestions! I'm adding most of these (and yours) to my too read list right now!


message 2: by Mark (new)

Mark Great interview and awesome recs!


message 3: by Misty (new)

Misty Dais Thanks for the book suggestions. My holiday reading list has been expanded!


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