Check It Out: Teens, YA literary adventures await you

Young Adult literature is full of great stories, including good old-fashioned adventures with protagonists willing to take on any challenge. Below are a few series-starting page-turners for the adventure lover:

For teens of any age, "Airborn," by Kenneth Oppel, grabs the reader from the first line: "Sailing toward dawn, and I was perched atop the crow's nest."

At the highest height of the hydrium-filled dirigible, we meet Matt Cruse (Mr. Cruse to his captain and shipmates), a young man born to sail the skies. After helping to rescue an injured balloonist, Matt later meets the man's granddaughter, Kate de Vries.

Kate has the mind of a great scientist and the disposition of a true adventurer. She and Matt quickly become friends and partners in the quest to locate a rare creature said to have been spied at high altitudes.

Most of the action takes place aboard the airship (there may even be pirates ahead!). There's a hint of romance between the two main characters but more special is their friendship of equals.

The focus of "Airborn" is truly on the adventure as Matt and Kate make their mark on an alternate 19th century world full of floating airships, spinning ornithopters, winged creatures, and obtuse adults (who seem to be the same in any version of history). "Airborn" is followed by "Skybreaker" and "Starclimber."


Mixing intrigue with action, and also suitable for teens of any age, is Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan series. Set during the early events of World War I, Westerfeld's books imagine a world where scientific ingenuity has created new beasts both mechanical and biological.

Once the Archduke is assassinated in Sarajevo, the war is on between the 'Clankers (the Austro-Hungarian Empire and allies)' and the 'Darwinists (the British and their allies).' The war is the backdrop for the adventures of two inexperienced but intrepid young people: Alek, the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian empire, and Deryn Sharp, a midshipman on the airship Leviathan who's hiding a secret that could endanger the dream of serving in the British Air Service.

The Leviathan is actually an enormous, genetically-engineered whale that contains its own ecosystem. Affixed to the beast is a gondola, with engines, for carrying passengers and cargo. Though technically enemies, Alek and Deryn forge a strong bond.Their journeys take them high over Europe, into bear-inhabited Russian mountains, to the streets of Istanbul, and even to the blazing metropolis of New York.

Deryn and Alek, and plenty of well-drawn supporting characters, play pivotal roles in the course of the war--while the reader, rapt, follows the twisting tale of excitement, humor, danger and really nifty scientific inventions. The books in the trilogy are "Leviathan," "Goliath" and "Behemoth."


Finally, the Jacky Faber books, by L.A. Meyer, are rousing naval adventures told in a singular voice.

Jacky begins life as Mary, is plunged into tragedy on page one, and rescued by a gang of orphans living on the London streets. Escaping the short life of an orphan in the early 1800s, Jacky wins a spot aboard a British navy ship heading out to sea in the midst of the Napoleonic Wars.

Once aboard ship, Jacky not only holds her own with the other ships' boys, she out-does them all. Being a girl and living among "salty sea sailors" makes for plenty of fraught situations and wry humor.

The series begins with "Bloody Jack" and is up to nine volumes. Author L.A. Meyer does excellent work portraying realistically the sometimes gritty life aboard ship as well as on dry land.

Through it all, Jacky is a heroine apart: resourceful, accident prone, loyal, sharp-tongued, haunted by danger, but passionate about living.

In conclusion, a few classics deserve recognition: "The Three Musketeers," by Alexandre Dumas, "Kidnapped," by Robert Louis Stevenson, and a somewhat overlooked title these days, "Westward, Ho!" by Charles Kingsley.

CHECK IT OUT is written by the staff of the Newport Beach Public Library. All the books mentioned can be found at Using the catalog, you can read reviews and sometimes excerpts by clicking on the cover image for each title. For more adventure and YA fiction of all genres, see our Teen Booklists, accessible at For more information on the Central Library or any of the branches, please contact the Newport Beach Public Library at (949) 717-3800, option 2.

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