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Genre Guide– Spy Fiction

2014 December 18
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By Employee(s) of Universal Studios (Photograph in possession of SchroCat) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Employee(s) of Universal Studios (Photograph in possession of SchroCat) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Definition
Spy fiction is a sub-genre of mysteries and thrillers. For a novel to be considered spy fiction, some form of espionage must be present in the plot. This can include one person as a spy, or a whole agency of spies.  Spy fiction can be set in the present day, past, and future. When spy fictions are written for teens, the protagonist or protagonists are often inexperienced and considered amateur sleuths.

Authors to Know

Characteristics
Spy fiction must have action and adventure. Though some have it outright, others may have more of a cerebral approach.  The main character or characters have a mission that is given to them at the start of the story.  This can be a mission that they adopt themselves or one that is handed to them by a higher-up.  Oftentimes, spy fiction involves some kind of political entity, either employing the spy or working against them. In spy fiction, good and bad parties are clearly defined.  Most often, we are receiving the story from the good guy’s point of view, and that good guy is the spy.   However, readers must always beware of the double agent!  Unless part of a series, most spy fiction novels end with justice.  However, before justice is carried out the reader is usually led on a series of twists and turns and kept guessing as to if the main character will be victorious in the end.  Spy fictions are usually set in the past, alternate past, or present, and rarely are they set in the future. read more…

Take a Closer Look at Comics

2014 December 17
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This fall I have had an opportunity to delve into comic books and graphic novels in the course of writing my Women in Comics posts here, while taking a Coursera MOOC entitled “Comic Books and Graphic Novels,” and as an attendee at a symposium entitled Comics and the Classroom. Though I have long been a fan of comics and graphic novels, these activities have given me a new appreciation for the depth of comics and the artistry that is on view in some of the best examples of the genre. I have also learned some great strategies for analyzing comics similar to the way that one would analyze other types of literature or art. While some might feel that this takes the fun out of reading them and makes the process too academic, for me, it has opened up meanings that I might have missed, and subtleties that demonstrate the way that comics allow authors and artists to come together to create a complete work that is greater than the sum of its parts.

If this sounds interesting, here are some thoughts and suggestions on getting started doing close readings of comics.

Layout & Design: When analyzing comic books it is important to take the time to consider all of the elements both separately and together. This means looking at the overall layout of the page, whether it is broken into separate “panels” (the term for each box of a comic), the size and shape of each panel, the color and shading choices of the images, the layout and type of text, and the text, to name just a few potential elements. Ask yourself why each decision was made: What does each panel’s size convey? If the style of the lettering changes, what is this meant to say about the tone? All comics exist in the historical framework of those that have come before in the genre, so also consider what the style of art evokes in terms of genre, tone, and period?  read more…

Jukebooks: All You Are by Elizabeth Karre

2014 December 17
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all you areDa’Quan figures that if he could be one of the popular kids, he might be able to attract the attention of the lovely Ashantay. Much to his amazement, Da’Quan finds a stranger in his room who offers him the gift of channeling other people. Popular people. This should give him a great shot at Ashantay. But each time he channels someone for their cool trait — such as playing basketball — Da’Quan gets an unwanted trait as well. Somehow, he just can’t get the perfect person to channel. But, as he discovers in the end, he may not really need to.

The song, “Cool Kids,” was a collaborative effort of the siblings that make up the band Echosmith (Jamie, Noah, Sydney and Graham Sierota,) along with Jeffery David and Jesiah Dzwonek. The lyrics are striking in their simplicity and precision:

I wish that I could be like the cool kids
‘Cause all the cool kids, they seem to fit in
I wish that I could be like the cool kids
Like the cool kids

Watching adorable Sydney Sierota sing about wanting to be a cool kid feels a bit Twilight Zonish, but the overall emotion of the music video is joyous acceptance.

-Diane Colson, currently reading Some Assembly Required: The Not-So-Secret Life of a Transgender Teen by Arin Andrews

The Woods Are Just Trees; The Trees Are Just Wood: Counting Down to “Into the Woods”

2014 December 16
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Books for Into the Woods fans

True confession time: for how many of you is December 25 not just Christmas, but Into the Woods release day?! I’m so excited to see how the new Disney version compares with the old one I watched so many times on video. Before I ever took a literature class or heard the term “fractured fairytale,” I was amazed at this story which used the common theme of venturing “into the woods” to connect so many familiar stories together using a single setting. If you haven’t seen the trailer yet, take a look:

Superfans have probably already heard Anna Kendrick sing Steps of the Palace and seen Johnny Depp’s Wolf interview. With so many actors that teens know and love, and the Disney name to boot, it’s a sure bet that this Sondheim musical is going to pique the curiosity of teen readers. Remember, too, that today’s teens have grown up steeped in middle-grade fairytale mashup worlds. We’ll soon need a meta-Into The Woods just so the characters from The Land of Stories, Sisters Grimm, Ever After High, and Fablehaven can meet up and commiserate about what it’s like to live in all these blended tales. Even the Dork Diaries series got in on the fun with Tales from a Not-So-Happily-Ever-After. And of course, the TV shows Grimm and Once Upon A Time (not to mention the movie version of Shrek) have only fueled the renewed interest in fairy tales. read more…

Is This Just Fantasy?: It’s A White, White World–And That’s Got To Change.

2014 December 15
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Just Fantasy PoC fantasyAs a life-long devotee of fantasy fiction, I’ve frequently defended the value of stories that feature dragons, magically gifted heroines, or angst-ridden werewolves.  And while I’ve often stated that fantasy fiction isn’t necessarily an escape from reality simply because it includes magic or ghosts, even the most committed fan must acknowledge that the genre is incredibly disconnected from reality in fatal ways.  For one, fantasy fiction remains an overwhelmingly white world–an area of literature where you might find vampires or psychic detectives but rarely characters of color.

This lack of diversity is a widespread problem in young adult literature and the larger publishing industry but speculative fiction is especially guilty of inequitable representation within its stories and industry.  Just last week, The Guardian published an article by speculative fiction author & essayist Daniel José Older  discussing the insidious ways that systemic racism and white privilege has permeated the science fiction and fantasy publishing & fan communities.  At last month’s YALSA Young Adult Literature Symposium, there was an entire panel titled “Where Are The Heroes of Color in Fantasy & Sci-Fi?”, which Hub blogger Hannah Gómez recapped with great accuracy & insight.

So, how do we, as readers, fans, & promoters of these genres, demand & nurture fiction with imaginary worlds as diverse as the one we live in?  To start, we need to read, buy, promote, and request titles by and about people of color.  Accordingly, I pulled together some authors and titles to check out, focusing on fiction that falls on the fantasy side of speculative fiction.  This list is far from comprehensive; for more titles, I recommend checking out Lee & Low’s genre-specific Pinterest board, Diversity in YA, and We Need Diverse Books.

High Fantasy

2004 Edwards Award winnerearthsea Ursula K. Le Guin has long been considered one of the best and most beloved high fantasy writers; she’s also consistently written stories with people of color as protagonists–although film adaptions & book covers have often blatantly ignored this, white-washing characters like Ged, the brown-skinned protagonist of A Wizard of Earthsea.  The 2013 Edwards Award winner Tamora Pierce also includes characters of color in her novels; her Emelan books feature both black & multiracial protagonists.

silver phoenixFans of thrilling adventures & complex heroines should try novels by Cindy Pon, Ellen Oh, or Malinda Lo for rich high fantasy tales rooted in a variety of East Asian cultures.  Cindy Pon’s lush & exciting Silver Phoenix and its sequel, The Fury of the Phoenix follow young Ai Ling as she discovers her unique abilities and battles an ancient evil based in the royal palace. Ellen Oh’s Dragon King Chronicles (beginning with Prophecy) also focuses on a powerful young woman struggling to embrace her destiny–the yellow-eyed demon slayer Kira who might be the key to saving the Seven Kingdoms from destruction.  Malinda Lo’s Ash (2010 Morris Award finalist, 2014 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults and Huntress (2012 Best Fiction for Young Adults, 2012 Rainbow List, 2012 Amelia Bloomer List) are richly imagined, romantic novels I recommend to all fantasy readers! read more…

The Monday Poll

2014 December 15
by Allison Tran
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monday_pollGood morning, Hub readers!

Last week, we asked you to choose your favorite wintery YA read. Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater took the top spot with 47% of the vote, followed by Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett, with 29%. You can see detailed results for all of our previous polls in the Polls Archive. Thanks to all of you who voted!

As we head into the last few weeks of the year, we’re pondering what YA literature trends we’ll see in 2015. We here at The Hub have a few ideas, but we want to know what you think! What trends do you think will hit the big time in YA lit next year? Vote in the poll below, and please elaborate or add alternative choices in the comments!

What YA lit trends will we see in 2015?

View Results

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YALSA’s 2015 Morris/Nonfiction Reading Challenge Check-In #1

2014 December 14
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yalsa morris nonfiction sealsNot signed up for YALSA’s 2015 Morris/Nonfiction Reading Challenge? Read the official rules and sign up on the original post. If you’re finished, fill out the form at the bottom of this post to let us know!

Greetings!

Are you busy with holidays or end-of-the-year activities? It can be an intense time of year, and you may be debating about jumping into the Hub’s Morris/Nonfiction reading challenge but I am here to encourage you to DO IT!

There are two very good reasons to take part by reading as many of the 2015 finalists for the William C. Morris Award for debut YA authors, and/or the 2015 finalists for YALSA’s Award for Excellence in Nonfiction, or both between now and the Youth Media Awards on February 2:

  1. You will have a head start on the Hub Reading Challenge that starts in February and that includes PRIZES!
  2. By reading some great, informative nonfiction, and some books by hot, new authors, you will become the smartest person in the room at any holiday party you attend.

Now get started! Or, if you have miraculously already completed the challenge, won’t you please fill out the form at the bottom of this post so we can all be amazed by you?

The rest of us will leave comments talking about which titles we are most looking forward to reading. I’ll start – for the Morris, I’m excited to read Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero, and Laughing at My Nightmare by Shane Burcaw is the Nonfiction title I am most curious about. You?

~ Geri Diorio, currently reading The Alex Crow by Andrew Smith

Tweets of the Week: December 12th

2014 December 12
by Molly Wetta
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This was an exciting news in the YA lit world, with news that Rainbow Rowell is writing a book set in Fangirl‘s Simon Snow universe and Malinda Lo’s annual analysis of the LGBTQ titles published during the year. Enjoy!

tweets of the week | the hub 

Movies and TV

Notes from a Teens’ Top Ten Book Group Participant: 6 Books Every Teen Girl Should Read

2014 December 11
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TeensTopTen_logo_webTeens across the nation voted for the 2014 Teens’ Top Ten list, and the winners have been announced- but did you know how the books are nominated for this list in the first place?

Books are nominated by members of Teens’ Top Ten book groups in school and public libraries around the country. To give you a glimpse of what it’s like to be part of the process, we’re featuring posts from these teens here on The Hub. Today we have book recommendations from Kitra Katz of the Teens Know Best book group in St. Paul, Minnesota. To read more reviews by Kitra and the members of this group, visit the TKB Blog.

As a girl who has soaked in hundreds of books throughout her teenage years, I have found myself sighing at scores of disappointments. My peculiar taste for characters who make me proud to be a young woman and teach me lessons I need to wrap my head around before my last year of legal childhood comes to a halt often makes finding literary role models difficult. Very, very difficult.

I don’t want to jump into the world of a girl who spends more time moping over a boy than building her own story (though sometimes a fun, girly read can be good). Instead, I want a girl who is her own hero, or even the hero of others. A girl who can whip out a sword or witty word faster than she can say, “Maybelline or Covergirl?” A girl who is strong in times of trouble.

Sadly, this girl doesn’t seem to be terribly common in the literary world. So to help all those young women like me out there, I’ve created a checklist of six books every teenage girl needs to read.

1. Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys (a 2012 Morris Award finalist)

In this tear-jerking piece of fiction, we meet Lina, a fifteen-year-old who faces the most difficult years of her life when her whole family is arrested and sent to various Soviet-run prison camps.

2. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Told as a “memoir-in-comic-strips,” Persepolis is the story of Marjane growing up in the capital of Iran during the Islamic Revolution. Fascinating and eye-opening. read more…

Diverse Books, Diverse Families

2014 December 11
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Image courtesy of Flickr user theirhistory

Image courtesy of Flickr user theirhistory

As the holiday season enters into full-swing and all my friends are discussing vacation plans with their families far and wide, I got to thinking about the ways in which families are depicted in YA literature. In particular, the surprising lack of diversity in how family units are portrayed as a general rule. More often that not, YA main characters come from “traditional” heterosexual nuclear families with birth parents who are not divorced. That said, as families across the nation become increasingly more diverse on all sorts of levels, so too are fictional families in YA and adult literature. In honor, then, of diverse families, both the ones we are born into and the ones we find, I’ve rounded up a wide array of titles celebrating the love we give and receive from the most important people in our lives.

Counting by 7s

Counting by 7s

Holly Goldberg Sloan’s book Counting by 7s is a favorite at my school with both students and teachers alike. It centers on the life of the endearingly quirky 12-year-old genius Willow Chance, the adopted multiracial daughter of loving white parents. When her adoptive parents tragically die in a car crash, Willow finds herself taken in by her Vietnamese friends and their single mom. What I really appreciated about this book is that it emphasizes that family, although always imperfect, is something that can be created and that is ultimately transformative. Featuring a truly unusual and unique set of misfit characters, this is an uplifting book that reads something like a fable or fairy tale come true. read more…