Books that fall under the category of genre fiction (including fantasy, sci-fi, mystery, horror, and many more) have no restrictions but the limits of the imagination. These five authors decided to take that as a challenge, and it worked out pretty damn well for them.
Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith
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Teens hide in a bunker from the giant mutant grasshoppers destroying Iowa. In Andrew Smith’s Grasshopper Jungle, the end of the world is weirder than anyone ever could have imagined it. The giant grasshoppers destroying Iowa mostly want what Smith’s protagonist wants: to mate and destroy. Smith’s bisexual protagonist finds himself in the apocalypse bunker of a mysterious and wealthy town legend with only his girlfriend and his gay best friend- who has a crush on him. With chapter titles like “The Right Kind of Cigarette to Smoke Before You Kill Something,” Smith’s novel is full of wit and eccentricity that give its serious moments all the more impact.
We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson
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Aliens regularly abduct a teenager, giving him the choice to press a button which will stop the scheduled end of the world. You know Shaun David Hutchinson’s We Are the Ants is one seriously bizarre story when alien abductions aren’t the strangest thing in it. Hutchinson’s world is going to end, and only one bullied teenager can stop it with the press of a button. With his mom’s underemployment, his brother’s immaturity, his sometimes-hookup’s abuse, and his grandmother’s worsening dementia, the choice seems to be a resounding HELL NO. But as the story proceeds, it becomes less and less clear whether this is a story about a boy who doesn’t want to save the world or a story about a boy who might want to save himself.
Rules for Werewolves by Kirk Lynn
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A group of misfits who may or may not turn into werewolves search local driveways for a specific car. Kirk Lynn’s Rules for Werewolves might not be about werewolves at all. This work of literary fiction explores what it means to be wild as it follows a gang of self-described werewolves, a close-knit gaggle of homeless young people running away from their troubled circumstances. As they search for the car of a man who has wronged them (with the intention of getting their dubiously-deserved revenge), it becomes difficult to discern whether their transformations are literal or figurative. Whether or not they are what they call themselves, the story culminates in something truly animal.
Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero
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The grown-up Scooby Gang, now alcoholics and felons, return to the site of their childhood trauma to solve one last mystery. Edgar Cantero’s Meddling Kids mixes childhood nostalgia with Lovecraftian horror to produce this hilarious nightmare of a novel. A group of teen sleuths and a dog famously solved mysteries in their hometown until one deadly case that left them clinically traumatized. Now they’re back and worse off than ever to catch the crook who may be a lot scarier than just a man in a mask. Campy and hilarious, this novel is filled with haunted houses, lake monsters, underground caves, elaborate traps, and characters’ apparently limitless bad decisions. All these elements combine to make this story fresh yet familiar- all the while keeping it weird and wacky.
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A college-age superfan of a children’s book series finds out that the magical realm from his favorite story is real- but spectacularly more messed up than it sounded. Lev Grossman’s The Magicians centers on gifted student-slash-magician Quentin Coldwater, who’s obsessed with the secrets behind the high fantasy series he adored as a child. But those books definitely didn’t include indifferent gods and anthropomorphic bears taking shots of Peach Schapps- and the world Quentin discovers definitely does. Quentin and his cynical, hard-partying friends fight for their lives, explore the world and themselves, and occasionally make out as Grossman expertly juxtaposes the innocence of childhood with the absurdities and hard edges of the real world.
As strange as these books may sound, the authors’ risk-taking paid off. You won’t have read anything like them.
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