Robert A. Heinlein is one of our all time favorite writers. Many reviewers of his works focus on those of his books meant for an adult audience with special attention given to those more controversial works. Even though we could write an epic poem in tribute to all of Heinlein’s works we have decided to focus on a few of his books written with young adults in mind. Having read each of his books several dozen times between us we agreed that these three books are (in our opinions) the best Robert Heinlein young adult books.
Tunnel in the Sky
Tunnel in the Sky is an extremely unique coming of age story that explores human nature as well as government organization.
Set in a distant future Rod Walker is preparing to take the final exam for his advance survival test. Planning to become a professional pioneer who settles new planets (using the teleportation technology that is utilized for all transportation) Rod is determined to pass the dangerous test that requires students to spend two to ten days alone on an uninhabited location unknown to any of the students.
Through an unexpected disaster the students from several classes find themselves stranded on a planet without adults and surrounded by dangers real and imagined. Forced to work together to survive the students must overcome their environment, each other, and in some cases themselves. Heinlein uses the unique setting to create a very different story about growing up, the pioneer society, and the multiple issues that can accompany a traditional form of government.
The Star Beast
How many of you had a pet as a kid? The people behind your favorite book fanatic site have owned cats, dogs, spiders, and (long story) an alligator. However the pet of John Thomas Stuart XI, the main character in The Star Beast, wins the prize. Lummox is a creature of unknown origin brought to Earth after the interstellar voyage of one of John Thomas Stuart’s ancestors. Lummox is loveable, clever, and gigantic.
Following a particularly destructive escapade that destroys a substantial amount of public property the local orders the destruction of Lummox. Simultaneously an interstellar delegation arrives to Earth searching for a lost member of their royal family who they have determined is being kept on Earth. As the stories entwine the reader is treated to a story that is a fantastic mix of comedy, adventure, and classic coming of age.
Farmer in the Sky
Set in the distant future Farmer in the Sky shows how much Heinlein loves the idealized pioneer lifestyle. Bill Lermer is a young man who finds himself emigrating to a farming colony located on one of Jupiter’s moons. The decision to leave Earth is influenced largely by the rationing system enforced because of overpopulation and the desire of Bill’s father to start over in a new place years after the death of his wife. The information given to the Lermers about their new home makes the colony sound like a paradise, but when they arrive they are all shocked to find that the colony simply does not have the resources to support the large influx of new bodies.
Bill and his family are forced to work hard to establish their new farm while supporting themselves. In addition to the basic hardships of building a farm the family is forced to deal with sickness and natural disaster. Heinlein, often accused of romanticizing the pioneer lifestyle, does not shy away from tragedy or the hard realities of settling any uninhabited land.
These are only three of Robert Heinlein’s young adult novels, but they are three of our favorites. Other great books written by Heinlein that should be given a read are The Rolling Stones, Have Space Suit—Will Travel, and Space Cadet.