So: Steampunk. What is it, and what does it have to do with teen fiction?
The sarcastic answer is “Steampunk is what happens when goths discover brown.” A better answer would be a question: “What if the future happened earlier?” Steampunk goes back to the 1800s and imagines what would happen if we had created advanced technology using the materials available at the time. So instead of plastic and chrome, we get brass and leather–and always, always goggles. Instead of airplanes, there are steam-powered airships. Instead of cars, coal-fired velocipedes. Do you remember the movie version of The Wild Wild West? Okay, it may not have been a great film, but the giant mechanical monsters in the old-west setting is a good example of steampunk.
If steampunk sounds like the thing for you, give a few of these a try–
Leviathan, Behemoth, and Goliath (out this fall) by Scott Westerfeld. It’s World War I as you never knew it. Austria and Germany have their military strength in giant machines; Britain and her allies use genetically engineered animals to carry their soldiers. When an Austrian prince gets captured by an English airship, he makes friends with a young midshipman who is really a midshipwoman in disguise. Adventure ensues!
Airborn by Kenneth Oppel. Matt is a cabin boy on the airship where he’s lived all his life. He rescues an old man who claims to have discovered a species of “beautiful creatures,” but the man dies, leaving behind only a notebook filled with sketches. With the help of Kate, a rich young girl who happens to be the man’s granddaughter, he sets out to find if the creatures are real, or just a figment of a dying man’s imagination.
Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare. Set in the same universe as her present-day Mortal Instruments series, this book delves into a shadowy version of 1878 in England. Tessa travels to London to find her brother. Instead, she’s captured by two sisters who force her to Change, taking on the appearances of other people. She’s accidentally rescued by the handsome but troubled Will, who introduces her to a world full of clockwork wonders–and terrors.
The Girl in the Steel Corset by Kady Cross. Finley Jayne tries not to cause trouble, but when a young lord makes unwanted advances, she decks him with a punch that knocks him out cold. This isn’t part of a normal young woman’s skills, so Finley goes on the run to avoid questions. She meets Griffin, who shows her that she’s not the only person out there with surprising abilities, but danger is looming in the form of the mysterious Machinist.
The Parasol Protectorate series, by Gail Carriger. A proper Victorian lady never goes anywhere without her parasol–in this case, a brass-cased, steam-powered menace wielded by the formidable Alexia Tarabotti. Combining steampunk with the paranormal–she faces down vampires and werewolves–Alexia has to navigate Victorian society as well as the world of the undead. This one has some mature content, so give it a test run to see if it’s right for you.