If you read even a moderate amount of fantasy, you are likely familiar with one of its most common tropes: the chosen one, also known as the fated savior or destined heroine. While there are many different types of fantasy being written and read today, certain patterns repeat frequently and the ‘chosen one’ trope is no exception. This trope usually involves the inclusion of a character (usually the protagonist) who has in some way been marked as especially gifted or otherwise uniquely equipped to complete a special mission. Whether they’ve been chosen by a deity, a prophecy, or circumstances of birth, chosen ones in fantasy tales must often complete quests, battle evil forces, and make difficult, pivotal choices in order to achieve their destinies. This particular trope is far from limited to fantasy literature–it shows up in all kinds of science fiction and fantasy media and the template is often connected to mythologist Joseph Campbell’s concept of the monomyth or hero’s journey.
As a longtime fantasy fan, I find the ‘chosen one’ trope can be a double-edged sword for the genre. On one hand, any popular pattern becomes stale after a while and stories that depend heavily on the ‘chosen one’ narrative can easily fall into traps of lazy plotting or derivative content. ‘Chosen one’ stories can include protagonists who are unbelievably talented or inhumanly heroic. These characters often react in their ‘chosen’ status in predictable ways, usually resisting or attempting to escape or avoid their destinies. However, this trope has remained prevalent for a reason, especially in fantasy for and about teenage characters. After all, it’s a narrative that investigates the difficult process of coming to understand one’s role in the larger world and battling with the frightening concept of a future–struggles common to adolescents even without magical prophecies hanging over their heads.
I’m seeing more books about characters who have suffered the loss of a limb in the past few years. Despite this, all the characters have learned to cope really well. It makes me really grateful for what I have and makes me have more empathy for those who aren’t as fortunate. I’m seeing more realistic portrayals of characters with disabilities who are strong main characters and not secondary ones, maybe due to the diverse books trend.
It seems that there are a range of different types of books with characters lacking limbs. There are fantasies set in the past, science fiction books set in the future and realistic fiction often related to sports or the arts. And, fairy tale retellings, including two published recently based on Grimm’s Girl Without Hands, one of their less well-known tales.
Crimson Bound by Rosamund Hodge is a lush fantasy that incorporates a number of fairy tales into her story of Rachelle who is forced to fight deadly creatures on behalf of the realm to atone for a reckless act. When the king forces her to guard his bastard son Armand, Rachelle forces Armand to help her hunt for the legendary sword that might save their world. Armand isn’t a warrior like Rachelle because the forestborn that marked him cut off his hands (an homage to Grimm’s Girl Without Arms) but Armand is shrewd and uses his great intelligence to make up for it.
Stephanie Oakes’ The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly (2016 Morris Award Finalist and 2016 Best Fiction for Young Adults Nominee) is unique in that it’s not a fantasy, nor is it SF, it is realistic fiction. The year isn’t specific, but it seems to me to take place in a relatively current time period but since the community is off the grid in a secluded area, it has a more historical feel. This story of one teen’s struggle to break away from the life she’s known in a cult since she was five is gritty and often hard to read but unforgettable. Minnow no longer believes in the Prophet after he announces that God told him to marry her. She dares to attempt to escape but is caught and punished for her disobedience – her hands are cut off. The Prophet even keeps Minnow’s skeletal remains of her hands on his mantel. Minnow tells her story of what happened to her in the cult before and after that horrific event to an FBI psychologist as she’s in juvenile detention on charges of seriously assaulting a mentally unstable young man.
Anyone familiar with Grimm’s story will notice that there are a number of elements that Oakes faithfully includes from Grimm’s original tale, although Oakes adds an even more shocking twist to her story. (For another version of Grimm’s Girl Without Hands, read Philip Pullman’s Fairy Tales From the Brothers Grimm (2012) and his commentary about why he dislikes this tale).
For the last two weeks of the year, we’re rounding up notable posts from throughout 2015. First up, discussion posts! These will give a snapshot of important issues and themes in YA literature over the past year.
In January, TIME Magazine released a Top 100 YA Books list, which prompted this post about what constitutes “best” and how we define young adult literature, as well as offering some suggestions for titles and authors that TIME’s “experts” overlooked.
Book clubs are one of the intersections between collection development and programming. There are an infinite number of ways to organize a book club in a school or public library, and it’s interesting to see the various ways that they operate. Ever wanted to start a teen book club at your library? Check out what several of us at The Hub have to say about ours!
What was the impetus behind starting a teen book club at your library?
Dawn: Our library hasn’t had a book club for youth/teens in a very long time. We of course have a lot of readers, so why not.
Sarah: I am a Middle School and High School librarian and my MS students are HUGE readers. They often suggest books to me and are happy to talk about books with one another and me. The 5th and 6th grade literature teachers and I all promote, book talk, and are eager to support reading so there was an obvious audience.
Jennifer: This is the second book club I have inherited! For my current library our Teen Advisory Board asked to start up the group before I started in this position. Although based on the number of folks who attend meetings but have not read (or even checked out) the book, I think that maybe they just wanted another chance to come and talk.
Traci: I inherited my book group from the previous teen librarian, but I’ve been here for 8 years now, so I think I can safely say it’s definitely my book group now! My book groupers are so passionate about reading and talking about books, so I’m thrilled to give them the ability to do so.
Diana: I also inherited a teen book group from a previous teen librarian, but as the teens began to hit junior or senior year of high school, they began to stop coming. It was harder to recruit new teens after the original set of core teens were aging out of the group. Thus, we took a break, but after some discussion, we are bringing back a teen book club in the spring. Currently, my library (out of 5 locations) is the only one to offer a teen book club. We also opened up the age group to 6th-12th grade (so junior high and high school could be represented).
Emily: Our Teen Book Club was started to expand programming and spark more interest with teens in the community.
Molly: There was resistance from the youth services manager years ago when we first began our book club because they thought it wouldn’t be a program that teens would attend. If it hadn’t been for a a core group of regular teen patrons who were lobbying for one, we never would have started. It’s been going for 5 years now, and this group will be seniors next year. While others have attended a few meetings over the years, it’s mostly been the original group. I think these book clubs (like many programs) will be most successful when they are teen driven and something that they want. There’s no reason to feel like you have to have a book club if it’s not the most valuable program for the teens you serve. Continue reading Teen Book Clubs in Your Library
Poetry has been figuring in a lot of teen literature lately. Have you noticed? I don’t mean novels in verse, quality as some recent titles have been. Nor do I mean poetry collections for teens (a la Poisoned Apples or Paint Me Like I Am). The Guardian noticed this poetry trend, too, pointing out a few examples in a recent article, and asked its readers for more.
I liked how the article noted authors’ uses of poetry, such as Meg Cabot beginning the chapters of Avalon High with stanzas from The Lady of Shalott. These stanzas just happen to give a clue about the characters’ identities. The article also mentioned a similar use of poetry in Clockwork Angel, by Cassandra Clare: the lines that open the chapters are all from poets who lived in the time of the novel’s setting, late-19th century London.Continue reading Line by Line: Poetry in Teen Fiction
I’m a big series fan. I always have been, since way back in my Babysitter’s Club days. Books, tv, movies, comics; I’m not particular about format, I just love to get to know a group of characters and then follow them through their ups and downs. Whether that means high-stakes urban fantasy, or an emotionally-gripping mirror of the landscape we’re all navigating out here in the real world, I want to get invested. I want to laugh at jokes that are only funny to insiders, and cry at slights that hit deep because they’re drawing on the hundred interactions that led up to them. When I become attached to any imagined world, and all of that world’s quirks and characters, whether as a reader, listener, or viewer (or, for many people, though admittedly not me, gamer), I just want more; any medium will do, just let me stay immersed in that delightful world a little longer.
If you’re reading this, then you’re probably not surprised at the continued popularity of dystopian literature or the many subgenres within it. Why are readers drawn to a dark post-apocalyptic future or the natural disasters with climate-fiction (cli-fi)? The appeal of these plots attracts a readership that spans generations. Others are quick to judge those of us over the age of 18 that love dystopian literature and cli-fi but overlook the joy and positive elements to these plots: the hope in dystopian. The dystopian genre is more than The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner and as grateful as I am to movies turning kids onto reading books they have also generalized this vast genre and created a stereotype of both this genre’s plots and their readers.
Yes, these books are overly dramatic at times and incredibly unrealistic most of the time, but beyond the angst and youthful revolution mentality, one underlying message reoccurs – hope. Hope that stems from working together; hope that comes from faith in humanity; and hope that even in the midst of corrupt adults, deathly plagues, and the aftermath of natural disasters – we are stronger than the challenges and we, as a people, WILL survive. A story telling how we not only process and overcome negative events in life but still manage to find joy has been around long before the genre was named and long before we met Katniss.
Being drawn to dark plots, death, and those ‘scary’ elements that many adults do not think are age appropriate is not a new fascination for young readers. Children have grown up with Grimm’s Fairy Tales and Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales in which children not only kill parents, but adult characters often kill or torture children. Eighteen years ago parents also worried that Harry Potter was too dark for children. Yet with each of these masterpieces and their continued popularity decades and centuries later, children not only read about negative facts of life, but they also see how other children overcome these challenges. They learn that one can survive something tragic and sometimes life doesn’t have that Disney ending. Continue reading Sometimes the Apocalypse Can Be Good: Finding the Hope in Dystopian Literature
Breaking news – There has been a technological revolution where kindles, e-books, and various online reading apps have taken over the world. Well, not exactly… But with today’s technological advancement it seems as though the popularity of reading books online has dramatically increased. In fact, according to a 2012 survey by Pew Research Center, the average number of books read by a reader of e-book is 24 books compared to 15 books for those who only read print. What makes reading an e-book more popular than reading a print book? I plan to evaluate the pros and cons for both types of books.
There are so many wonderful factors involved with reading a print copy of the book. When I was in elementary school I remember the excitement of going to the bookstore with my mom to purchase more Magic Tree House and Junie B. Jones books. The feel of sitting down in the book store, perusing through various books and selecting which ones I wanted to read was just so much fun! Then, when I got home I could curl up on the couch and read for hours; and when I was done I could go back to the bookstore and purchase the next book in the series. Nowadays, I find myself going to the bookstore less frequently. I order paperback copies online, and have the books shipped to my house which is more convenient. But, I do miss the fun trips to the bookstore. Nevertheless – I think that reading paperback books has its own charm and excitement that cannot be replaced by an electronic book. Holding the physical copy of the book in my hands, and flipping each page makes the reading experience so much more real and memorable. For this reason, I personally prefer reading print copy books. Continue reading A Teen Perspective: E-books vs. Print Books