Neverwhere—by Neil Gaiman
My first, and to this day favorite, Gaiman novel. Set in the mystical, fae-like “London Below”—a mirror version of the city that exists just below its subway system—Neverwhere follows Richard Mayhew, an everyman who finds himself pulled down Below. After an encounter with a girl named Door, a traveler from this other world, Richard inexplicably becomes something of an unperson—invisible to others, fired from his job, kicked out of his home. Alongside Door and a fantastical cast of her connections from Below, Richard goes on a quest to get his life back, accidentally entwining himself in the dangerous conflicts of the other, foreign, magical London. This book is a novelization of Gaiman’s BBC show…which has now been turned into a radio play, and has a whole list of sequels and short stories. Getting into the world of Neverwhere can feel a bit like falling into the rabbit hole, right alongside Richard.
Orleans—by Sherri L. Smith
If Hurricane Katrina had only been the first of the wave of disasters to hit the South; if the destruction wreaked there had never been aided, and became breeding ground for plague; if the rest of the U.S. cut its ties, built up its walls, and ran. The world of Orleans is what is left after 50 years of quarantine in the chaotic ruins of the Delta. Half of New Orleans is underwater; the Superdome has become a catacomb; the people and scavengers left behind live in tribes defined by blood type, to avoid spreading the virus. Smith’s novel came recommended off a list of award winning sci-fi written by and centered around women of color. Its complex world building, as seen through the eyes of teenage warrior Fen de la Guerre, is as riveting and disturbing as Fen’s quest to get her tribe leader’s infant over the walls of the city.
Proxy—by Alex London
From Baltimore-native YA writer Alex London comes Proxy, a dystopian extension of the “whipping boy” tale. When Knox, a teenager born to wealthy Patron parents, must be disciplined, his punishments are taken out on Syd, an orphan living a world away. In return, Knox’s family pays for Syd’s schooling. When Knox finally goes too far, killing a friend in a car wreck, Syd is sentenced to death, and flees, determined to find his Patron and save his own life. The boys go on the run, and are thrown into a thrilling conspiracy, with a pace that carries you through the book and into the sequel. Knox is a tool, but a funny one; Syd is a great, clever, bitter, bisexual protagonist of color (diversify your sci-fi!)
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking—by Susan Cain
The words “extrovert” and “introvert” get thrown around a lot these days, right alongside your Myers Briggs type, your favorite color, and probably your horoscope. But the discussion rarely goes beyond “I like to party” and “I don’t”; Susan Cain’s book looks at the implications of introversion and extroversion in real life. Part self-help book, part expository look at personality in modern life, Quiet is a must read.
Rice Boy—by Evan Dahm
“I’m just Rice Boy. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. All I can do is grow plants and watch sunsets and listen to stories.”
Rice Boy is the first webcomic in Dahm’s expansive, surreal Overside universe, and is also the name of its tiny, pawn-shaped hero. The series is hard to describe in terms of plot and action; it grew out of what the author calls an “exercise in weird comicking.” Full of charming characters, captivating mythology, and stunning artwork, Rice Boy is available in hardcover or online for free at rice-boy.com