Who doesn’t like to escape into a story where the stakes are impossibly high, and the entire world is out to get you? Growing up, I craved books with non-stop action and adventure, anything to take me out of my dull teenage existence in small town Louisiana. My younger self devoured all kinds of books with survival elements, from Julie of the Wolves to A Wrinkle in Time. But no matter the genre, I always found myself wanting to fall into a fast-paced story where one wrong move could mean the difference between life and death.
My own debut, Cold the Night, Fast the Wolves, came out earlier this month, and follows a lone girl and a feral wolf forced to rely on each other in a world where almost everything is deadly, from the weather to the people. They will have to learn who to trust as the two compete in a dangerous sled race across a frozen tundra with ice goblins, treacherous landscapes, and ruthless competitors trying to stop them both. To say it has survival elements is an understatement.
So, if you’re like me and you love diving into an adrenaline-pumping story where it takes everything to survive, here are five other YA SFF books that will get your heart racing.
These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner
One of the older books on this list, Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner’s first installment in their Starbound Trilogy is a gripping story about two very different teens. Socialite Lilac is the daughter of the richest man in the galaxy while Tarver is a young war hero who came from nothing. But when the spaceliner they’re both on crashes on a deserted planet, they’re the only survivors and no one seems to be coming to save them. Not only will Lilac and Tarver have to figure out a way to survive the empty planet, but also the strange whispers and ghosts haunting their every step. This thrilling and devastatingly romantic story takes the deserted island trope to new extremes that are both heart-racing and heart-wrenching every step of the way.
The Ones We’re Meant to Find by Joan He
Speaking of deserted islands, The Ones We’re Meant to Find also features an isolated, lonely landscape. But in this story, Cee is trapped on an abandoned island with no memories of how she got there or her life before—she only knows she needs to find her sister, Kay. Told in alternating viewpoints from both Cee and Kay, the story weaves together two different narratives in a futuristic world plagued by chillingly familiar climate events. As the two sisters race to find a way back to each other, the story unfolds bit by bit, revealing secrets and hidden agendas alike, leaving us to wonder how far we’re willing to go, not only for survival, but for the ones we love.
Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Gaudin
This. Book. This book will have you on the edge of your seat (or couch)—the story will absolutely not let you go until you get to the heart-pounding conclusion. An alternate history with a sci-fi twist, Wolf by Wolf is set in a world reimagined, one where the Axis powers won WW2 and celebrate their victory with an annual motorcycle race across the German and Japanese controlled continents of Europe and Asia. Yael, a former death camp prisoner with the ability to skinshift, infiltrates this infamous race on a secret mission. Her plan? Take the place of the only female competitor and win the race so she can kill Hitler at the awards banquet in Tokyo. Not only did I finish this in one frenzied sitting, my palms were sweating from the suspense!
The Darkness Outside Us by Eliot Schrefer
This story starts off simple enough—two boys from warring nations alone on a joint rescue mission through space. But things aren’t as simple as they seem. First of all, Ambrose doesn’t even realize there’s another person on board when he wakes up. He thought he was on the ship to save his sister, not engage in diplomatic relations with Kodiak, his brooding counterpart. But things get really strange the further they get on their journey. Only by working together will they be able to survive a slowly-breaking ship, an AI that is clearly keeping secrets, and a perilous journey across the far reaches of space. The twists and turns just kept coming in this story, and what seemed simple in the beginning turned into a wild ride full of shock and tears.
Bad Witch Burning by Jessica Lewis
This book is the one fantasy on this list; it’s also the only contemporary one. That’s because survival doesn’t always mean harsh landscapes and mysterious enemies. Katrell isn’t fighting against bad guys or evil empires, she’s just trying to make it through the day. Between her unemployed, abusive mother and struggling to balance school and work, Katrell uses her ability to talk to the dead to make a little extra money so she can make ends meet. When her abilities change and she’s able to bring the dead back to life, she finds a way to finally escape the hell she considers her own life. But magic comes with its own cost and Katrell might lose a lot more than just her rent money if she keeps raising the dead. A book that looks unabashedly at the poverty and struggles that many Black girls face on a regular basis, Bad Witch Burning is a brilliant thriller showcasing just how hard it can be to survive in our own world.
Are there more survival books you think should be added to this list? List them in the comments below, I’m always looking to add to my TBR! In the meantime, I hope each of these wild rides gets your heart rate up and keeps you on the edge of your seat.
Meg Long was born and raised in Louisiana and originally wanted to be a spy. Instead she somehow found herself teaching overseas in China and Malaysia before ending up in Colorado, where it snows entirely too much. She taught middle and high school for eight years before jumping to the tech industry as a content writer. When not reading or writing, she’s kicking things at her Muay Thai gym with her boyfriend, playing video games, or obsessing over Sailor Moon fanart. Cold the Night, Fast the Wolves is her debut novel.