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Tag: Ursula K. Le Guin

Not Just for Adults: Books that Resonate with the Teen Reader

Today’s post is written by teen Jayla Johnson. In her own words: Jayla is an avid reader, and her favorite type of books involve anything with fantasy, dystopias or science fiction. Jayla loves writing nonfiction, giving out recommendations and talking about books; she is really excited to be a guest writer on The Hub, especially since it combines all of these things. She will be attending Denison University this fall, majoring in biology and minoring in literature studies.

Thank you, Jayla, for sharing your thoughts with us! -Rebecca O’Neil, currently reading The Marvels, by Brian Selznick.

As a long time reader, I’ve always felt that in order to truly appreciate books you have to explore and read all types of them: children’s, young adult, and the adult genre all hold gems that deserve to be discovered and treasured. I only read kid- and teen-related books up until I was around fourteen or fifteen; the idea of taking a plunge in the adult fiction section before that was too scary to even imagine. Even when my interest in adult books finally peaked, I was still slightly at loss as to what books to try, and wondered how different they could be. It wasn’t until I read Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman (2008 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults) that I realized, perhaps quite obviously, adult fiction could posses just as interesting and page-turning stories as teen books. And, suddenly, my entire world of book reading possibilities expanded tremendously.

For teens who have not yet ventured to reading non-YA books, or reading them for fun and not for school, it’s easy to get stuck in the thought that adult books are only composed of either dusty, boring classics or lengthy, seemingly unobtainable novels (I’m looking at you War and Peace). Fortunately, that’s far from the truth. There are countless books geared to adults that can generate just as much, if not sometimes more, interest in a teen reader.

Whether you have already read several books from the adult genre or are searching for your first to try, check out the list below of seven books that offer exciting and mature plots, intricate characters and absorbing settings. Ranging from romance to fantasy to poetry, these books, while marketed towards adults, offer plenty of appeal to teenagers.

Parasite – Mira Grant

parasiteIt is the year 2027 and all diseases have been eradicated thanks to a genetically modified parasite created by SymboGen Cooperation. Once the tapeworm is inserted into the human being, that person begins a life guarded from illness. Behind the success of SymboGen, however, lies deep secrets that the company is hiding. Secrets that may come to light as, all around, the very parasites put in to protect people are now the ones taking over their lives. With zombie and dystopian stories more popular than ever, and especially beloved by teenagers, Grant’s Parasite is a great addition.

The Rosie Project Graeme Simsion

rosie projectWhat would you do for love? Professor Don Tillman is an awkward, and incredibly smart genetics professor who decides to create a scientific formula to find his perfect wife. Despite being brilliant, he is clueless when it comes to love and is mostly socially disliked by both his peers and the general public. During his hunt for a wife, proclaiming it as “the Wife Project”, Tillman sets to stick to his strict rules that together form his ideal picture of a wife, yet realizes along the way that, a lot of times, the best people come unexpectedly. Similar to a lot of teen romance books, The Rosie Project features an unlikely couple falling in love, and the trials and trumps of discovering that perfect person the character was destined to be with.

Theft of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan

s-typeopts13Among the fictional land of Avryn, Hadrian Blackwater and Royce Melborn make their living working for the various nobles and aristocrats. Hadrian, an adept mercenary, and Royce, an expert thief, are hired for a seemingly normal job until they suddenly find themselves charged with regicide and arrested. Now, on the run from authorities and angry over whoever framed them, Hadrian and Royce set out to seek revenge. What starts as a straightforward mission ultimately leads the two partners in crime to ancient conspiracies and on a quest that could alter their whole world. While this book has its plenty share of elves, goblins, and exciting sword-fighting scenes, the witty banter and faithful friendship between Hadrian and Royce are what sets this fantasy book apart from others.

No Matter the Wreckage by Sarah Kay

no matter the wreckagePerhaps you might recognize her name from her infamous TED talk or spoken poetry performances. If not, Kay’s debut fills in for the moments and locations where it’s not possible to be consumed live. She writes about love, family, traveling, history, friends and dozens of other topics in this debut. Each poem various in length, but they all pack an emotional punch, equally raw and honest.

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

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!

Paradigm-shifting Sci-fi for National Science Fiction Day

Universe in My Hand
Image courtesy of flickr user Lauro Roger McAllister

It’s National Science Fiction Day!  A day to pause and give thanks for the genre that offers us an infinity of futures to inhabit, if only for the space of a novel.  It’s also the time of year when I like to ponder why I find science fiction so captivating.  Like many fans, it’s partly because I love immersing myself in a sense of possibility: these are civilizations that could happen, interstellar events that may well unfold, alien life yet to be encountered, worlds upon worlds waiting to be discovered (or explored or exploited or misunderstood).  However, I think my great love for this genre largely lies in its ability to reframe how I perceive the world.   Reading the great sci-fi classics in high school introduced me to an astonishing array of philosophical concepts and conundrums that shook up my belief systems.  Modern sci-fi continues to do the same for me some twenty years later.  So, in honor of National Science Fiction Day, here are five titles that will change the way you see the world.

Let me begin with Isaac Asimov’s classic Foundation Trilogy, a particularly apt pick given that National Science Fiction Day falls on his chosen birthday.  The series won the Hugo Award for best all-time series (deservedly so) and is inspired by Gibbon’s History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.  What sets the trilogy apart from so many other series is the scope of its ambition.  Asimov writes of the decline of the Galactic Empire and the forces at play to preserve its knowledge and help bring about the rise of another empire.  Sound dry?  It’s not!  You’ll be swept up by the fascinating ebb and flow of power and politics and by the series end, be asking yourself profound questions about history, the human condition, and the cyclical nature of civilizations.

Dystopia in Color

Elysium2I saw the movie Elysium when it opened earlier this month. This dystopian movie includes a multicultural future, with Matt Damon plays Max daCosta,  a Hispanic anti-hero in future LA.   This look at a Hispanic main character given the chance to change the world or save his life (he can’t do both) was a break from the usual round of science fiction in general and Dystopia stories in particular, where the man or woman who rights wrongs and changes society is usually white. A search of recent young adult and middle grade books led me to several that provide readers with a future filled with heroes of different backgrounds, ethnicities, locations and circumstances.

silver sixThe Silver Six is a middle grade dystopian graphic novel written by A.J. Lieberman, and illustrated by Darren Rawlings and published in 2013 by Graphix.  The cover shows the six heroes: Phoebe,  Hannah Yoshiama, Patel, Oliver, Rebecca, Phoebe, and Ian. Their scientist parents are assassinated after they discover a cheap form of power that would free humanity from bondage to Craven Mining, the world’s only energy  supplier.

The children meet at an orphanage where they are assigned silver jumpsuits, a sleeping pod, dangerous jobs, and little food (the future is truly cruel to orphans). Thus begins a story that will have young readers turning pages as the children learn the value of friendship and sticking together, and work to find a place they can call their own. They discover that their parents’ deaths was not an accident and find a way to beat Craven Mining and have their own, peronal paradise. The science is more fun than real, but the pages are full of heart and love and self-discovery, the graphics are fun, and kids who are into science fiction will enjoy this story.

It Matters If You’re Black or White: The Racism of YA Book Covers

Whitewashing in YAMost of the time, I love young adult literature and am proud to be a YA librarian. But there’s usually a moment once a month when I feel sick, tired, and embarrassed to be working with YA books for a living — and that’s when I flip through my stack of review journals and see a menagerie of gorgeous white girls staring back at me from the covers of upcoming releases.

If a YA book features a white, female protagonist (and this accounts for a not insignificant portion of YA released each year), it seems inevitable that the book cover will display an idealized and airbrushed masterpiece of her on the cover. And when a YA book actually does have a protagonist of color, too often one of three things seems to happen:

  1. The cover is “whitewashed” and shows a Caucasian model instead of a person of color;
  2. The cover depicts someone whose race seems purposefully ambiguous or difficult to discern; or
  3. The character is shown in silhouette

These forms of racism on the part of publishers are unacceptable. And the fact that it is so rampant within the young adult publishing industry seems particularly despicable. The first step toward change is awareness, and so below I’ve tried to pull together a collection of examples of these forms of subtle and not-so-subtle racism. If you have other examples, please share them in the comments.

The Edwards Award: The Once and Future Thing

YALSA’s upcoming YA Literature Symposium will explore the future of young adult literature. The symposium begins on November 2nd, but we wanted to get a head start here at The Hub, so we’re devoting October to 31 Days of the Next Big Thing. Each day of the month, we’ll bring you forecasts about where YA literature is headed and thoughts on how you can spot trends and predict the future yourself.

The Margaret A. Edwards Award has always been one of my favorite literary awards. It is YALSA’s version of a lifetime achievement award: it “honors an author, as well as a specific body of his or her work, for significant and lasting contribution to young adult literature,” and in order to be sure that the author’s work has been significant and lasting, the committee can only consider books published at least five years prior to the year they meet. The list of winners is a who’s who of the titans of YA literature, so it is decidedly retrospective (we might call it the Last Big Thing). But in the spirit of this month’s theme and the symposium, I wanted to find out how often the Edwards Award was predictive of an author’s continued contribution to YA literature — their ability to also be the Next Big Thing.

The Next Big Thing in Fantasy

YALSA’s upcoming YA Literature Symposium will explore the future of young adult literature. The symposium begins on November 2nd, but we wanted to get a head start here at The Hub, so we’re devoting October to 31 Days of the Next Big Thing. Each day of the month, we’ll bring you forecasts about where YA literature is headed and thoughts on how you can spot trends and predict the future yourself.

swordThere were a few years there where fantasy seemed like it was on the outs, relegated to the back table with the Dungeons and Dragons players and fairy-tale enthusiasts. There were a few breakthrough series such as the Eragon books, but for the most part, supernatural titles featuring vampires, wizards, zombies, fairies, and werewolves were taking up prime real estate on library shelves.

The lackluster popularity of fantasy has started to shift over the past few years with authors such as Kristen Cashore and John Flanagan rising in popularity. But even now, the top titles on Amazon in the Teens Fantasy category are all occupied by science fiction and supernatural blockbusters. That’s all about to change. Here’s why:

A roundup of magical cats in honor of Happy Cat Month

Well, friends, I won’t lie: I got a little excited when I heard that September is Happy Cat Month. I fall squarely into the cats-and-books-BELONG-together category (thankfully, I’m not alone). Although there are many books in which a cat plays an important part, I would like to give some attention today to an important sub-category of them: magical cats.

Erin Hunter’s Warriors series comes first to mind, of course. It begins with pet cat Rusty joining the wildcat group ThunderClan and becoming the warrior Fireheart. Warriors fans won’t want to miss the great fight scenes in S.F. Said’s Varjak Paw and The Outlaw Varjak Paw, with jaggedy illustrations by Dave McKean. And cat fans probably wouldn’t let me leave out Catwings by Ursula K. Le Guin or Time Cat by Lloyd Alexander, even though they are aimed at younger readers.

Also not to be missed: