Is This Just Fantasy?: Celebrating The Hub’s Favorite Women In Fantasy Fiction

Just Fantasy women in fantasyMarch is Women’s History Month. Woohoo! In that spirit, I wanted to dedicate this edition of Is This Just Fantasy? to the fabulous women of fantasy fiction and I asked my fellow Hub bloggers to join in the fun.  Here are some of The Hub’s favorite female characters in young adult fantasy fiction.

alannaAlanna of Trebond from Song of the Lioness series by Tamora Pierce (2013 Margaret A. Edwards Award)

“The heroine who comes immediately to my mind (and no doubt others as well!) is Alanna.  So strong, brave, courageous and while in the first novel she must hide her sex and pretend to be a boy, I really loved how ultimately she embraced being a woman as the series evolved.” – Sarah Debraski

Dealing-with-dragons-first-editionPrincess Cimorene from Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede

“After first encountering Cimorene in Dealing with Dragons, I was hooked. She is a princess who is bored with everything that goes with being a princess. She wants nothing to do with the not-very-bright princes she encounters and is so eager for more excitement in her life that she leaves her home to find a dragon to ‘capture’ her – the only acceptable alternative for a princess. Once she finds her dragon, she becomes the dragon’s chef and librarian (a fact I had forgotten until I recently reread this book). With Cimorene, Wrede turns princess stereotypes on their head and creates a funny, compelling, and exciting protagonist.” – Carli Spina  Continue reading Is This Just Fantasy?: Celebrating The Hub’s Favorite Women In Fantasy Fiction

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

Celebrate the Day of the Dead with These YA Novels

day of the dead by violetdragonfly
Image by violetdragonfly

In just a few days, The Day of the Dead (El Día de los Muertos) will be celebrated in Mexico, other Latin American countries and a large number of U.S. cities.  Celebration dates vary from October 31st through November 2nd. On the Day of the Dead, people remember and pray for family members and friends who have passed.  To celebrate the dearly departed, it is common to visit their graves and to create altars which often include marigolds, photos of the deceased and items that were important to them in life.

Communities, libraries and schools all over are currently making final preparations for their own Day of the Dead celebrations.  I’ve attended the Santa Ana, California celebration several times, and am always amazed by the range of altars that families and local organizations create in honor of loved ones and various causes.  The festivities also include Mexican folk music, face painting, sweet bread (pan de muerto) and Mexican hot chocolate.  If you live near a Day of the Dead celebration yourself, I strongly encourage you to check it out.

You can also see The Book of Life, a beautifully crafted new animated film in current release which includes a Day of the Dead celebration.  And of course you can always celebrate by reading one or more of the following YA novels (and one adult graphic novel) in which the Day of the Dead plays a role!

tequila worm viola canalesIn The Tequila Worm (2006 Pura Belpré Award winner), Viola Canales writes a semi-autobiographical story about Sofia, a Mexican-American teen who has grown up in a Latino neighborhood in South Texas.  Her excellent work in school earns her a scholarship to attend a prestigious and mainly white boarding school over 300 miles away from her family.  Much of the novel centers on Sofia’s efforts to convince her parents to let her attend this school.  Throughout the novel, family traditions and celebrations are described, including those connected with the Day of the Dead.  There’s lots of humor in this novel, yet it also covers serious ground including discrimination, the difficulty of separation from family and death. Continue reading Celebrate the Day of the Dead with These YA Novels

Is This Just Fantasy?: Defying Genre!

Just Fantasy defying genreGenre is a funny thing.  While it’s often easy–and frankly helpful– to divide novels into their neatly labeled slots based on basic characteristics such as setting and plot.  However, stories–like human beings–resist being placed into boxes and novels that blur the lines between genres consistently bring something unique to the table.

Today I wanted to highlight recent titles that experiment with two genres often perceived as polar opposites: contemporary realistic and fantasy fiction.  Frequently, such titles are classified as magical realism.  This category is fascinating and tricky to define but generally, it includes novels set in a world like ours but with certain magical elements as a natural part of that world; magical realism usually does not include world-building or explanations of its magical elements.  For a larger overview of the genre and its place in young adult fiction, I recommend this excellent post by Kelly Jensen & Kimberly Francisco over at Stacked.  For further explorations, check out Hub bloggers Julie Bartel and Alegria Barclay’s posts in memory of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, one of the authors most often identified with magical realism.

While I’m not sure that all these titles fit the generally accepted definition of magical realism, they all use strategic fantastical elements to illuminate contemporary stories about young adults’ coming of age in a world like ours.  Each title defies common genre expectations and none fit comfortably into a single category.  Instead they bend, reject, and flirt with multiple genres to create something unusual and compelling.

afterworldsAfterworlds – Scott Westerfeld

In between final exams and college applications, Darcy Patel wrote a novel and sent it off to a publisher on a whim.  Now, she’s moving to New York City with an amazing book deal but without an apartment, friends, or any idea what’s waiting for her.  As Darcy navigates the thrilling and overwhelming new world of professional writing & publishing, she also attempts to ride the ecstatic highs and heart-crushing lows of falling in love for the first time.

Meanwhile, the protagonist  of her paranormal thriller, Lizzie Scofield, deals with the strange new abilities she’s gained since surviving a terrorist attack by playing dead and slipping temporarily into another reality known as the Afterworld.  Told in alternating chapters, Darcy and Lizzie’s stories intertwine as both young women venture into adulthood and face unfamiliar decisions.

This intriguing novel could be classified as contemporary fiction with an embedded paranormal thriller but I prefer to think of it as a form of metafiction; after all, it’s a story about a writer beginning to sort out her emerging identity by writing a story about a young woman doing the same–just with death gods and ghosts. Continue reading Is This Just Fantasy?: Defying Genre!

Genre Guide: Steampunk for Teens

By Catherinette Rings Steampunk (Daniel Proulx) (Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Catherinette Rings Steampunk (Daniel Proulx) (Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Definition

Steampunk, believe it or not, is a term that has been round since the late 1980s. It is usually defined as a sub-genre of science fiction and features a late 19th century or early 20th century setting, but with steam-powered and clockwork inventions and machines.  Steampunk can also be identified as a sub-genre of speculative fiction and is often described as alternate history.  Most steampunk novels are set in Victorian England or America, but are also known to be set in the Wild West of America.

Authors to Know

Characteristics

Steampunk is often characterized by the setting of the story and inventions that are fantastical and magical. Steampunk uses a lot of visual descriptions, especially when it comes to the machinery and fashion. Oftentimes, a lot of description will go into how a machine works.  Supernatural elements are typically included in a steampunk story. Steampunk plots are adventure-driven stories, where machines play the part of moving the adventure along.  Since there is so much action packed into most steampunk novels, the pacing is usually fast.

The characters of steampunk novels are quirky and include inventors, mad scientists, or the like. Characters in steampunk novels also take on the punk mentality.  Usually the main character or characters is individualistic often goes against the mainstream, and he or she may be fighting for a cause or movement.   Many times the plot of a steampunk novel involves good vs. evil, where the good guys and bad guys are clearly defined. Continue reading Genre Guide: Steampunk for Teens

New and Forthcoming LGBTQ Young Adult Fiction

This summer, The Hub did a round up of Speculative LGBTQ fiction and highlighted other notable LGBTQ young adult novels. If you’ve worked your way through those lists and are looking for more LGBTQ fiction, you’re in luck! This post is highlighting teen fiction that features lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and otherwise non-heterosexual identifying characters and themes that are coming out in Fall 2014 and Winter 2015.

In some of these novels, the sexual orientation and gender identity are integral to the plot, and in others, it’s just another characteristic of the protagonist. There’s a great mix of genres and styles so that any reader can find a book they’ll enjoy. With titles from debut authors as well as those firmly established in the YA world, it’s great to see such an eclectic assortment of titles.

New LGBTQ YA Fiction FallWinter 2014-2015 Continue reading New and Forthcoming LGBTQ Young Adult Fiction

Is This Just Fantasy?: The Reading Life

Just Fantasy The Reading LifeBooks and reading have been integral to my identity essentially my entire  life.  My parents read to me since infancy and my status as a bibliophile has been established nearly as long.  We have a fairly infamous home video featuring my toddler self pulling all the books off the shelves in my room and then fiercely babbling at them the way another child might instruct toys.  Even now I will occasionally refer to favorite books by their main characters’ first names and I have been known to reprimand characters out loud while reading a particularly tense scene.  I have always viewed the world through a sort of double vision—there’s my ‘real’ life and then there’s my life in fiction.  The fictional characters and stories surrounding me have been just as influential ‘real life’ people and experiences. Unsurprisingly, many of the reading experiences with the strongest memories attached to them are connected to fantasy fiction.  Here are a few of the fantasy novels that have now become part of my story.

harry potter and the sorcerer's stone coverThe Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling (listed on various annual Best Books for Young Adults lists)

Like so many people of my generation, Harry Potter was and always will be a huge part of my reading history.  I read the first book in middle school, just a few years after it was first published in the U.S. and preceded to read all the subsequent novels, growing up alongside the characters.  I’ve spent an incalculable number of hours reading & rereading the novels, engaging in passionate conversations (and arguments) with fellow fans, or reading fanfiction featuring favorite characters.  I’ve found that in times of stress or anxiety, I turn to my trusty Harry Potter audiobooks and inevitably find both comfort and inspiration in joining Harry, Hermione, & Ron on their journeys.

amber spyglassHis Dark Materials trilogy: The Golden Compass (1997 Best Books for Young Adults), The Subtle Knife (1998 Best Books for Young Adults), The Amber Spyglass (- Phillip Pullman

I cannot actually recall exactly when I first read these complex and incredibly rich fantasy novels, especially since I’ve re-read them several times since.  However sometime in late middle or early high school I was first introduced to Lyra Belacqua and her alternative world–and I’ve been a little bit in love ever since.  These novels are multifaceted and intricate; every time I revisit them, I discover new details and layers.  During my senior year of college, I wrote a paper exploring the connection between John Milton’s portrayal of Eve in his epic poem Paradise Lost and Lyra’s role as a ‘new Eve’ in The Amber Spyglass.  While I enjoyed writing many papers during college, there were few I found as satisfying as that one.       

alannaThe Song of The Lioness quartet, The Immortals series, and more by Tamora Pierce (2013 Margaret A. Edwards Award)

I read my first Tamora Pierce novel in middle school, sometime in 7th or 8th grade.  I have a distinct memory of completing Alanna: The First Adventure during the late hours of a sleepover;  the evening had only emphasized the fact that while I wasn’t a complete outcast yet, I didn’t have any real friends. At that point in my life, my sense of self felt as tenuous and confused as my social life.  But when I read about Alanna (and later Daine & Keladry), I was not only transported–I was transformed.  Alanna and Pierce’s other brave, complex heroines refuse to be anyone but themselves;  they embrace their strengths and pursue their dreams despite sometimes overwhelming obstacles.  And when I disappeared into their world, I felt reassured that I could do the same.  

Kelly and Tamora Pierce
Tamora Pierce and me!

My love for Tamora Pierce’s works also persisted beyond middle and high school.  I made connections with friends during orientation week in college when we discovered our mutual love of these books. While working as a counselor and library assistant at my former high school’s summer ESL program, I introduced a student to the Alanna books on a hunch and was overjoyed when she devoured them.  At the time I was already seriously considering going to graduate school to become a teen services librarian but that experience confirmed my decision definitively.  When Tamora Pierce did an author visit to the school I now work at, it was difficult to tell who has more overwrought with excitement–me or the fans among my students!

the blue swordThe Blue Sword (1983 Newbery Honor), The Hero and The Crown (1985 Newbery Medal), Spindle’s End, and more by Robin McKinley

While Tamora Pierce’s books provided lots of high fantasy action and complex female protagonists, I was always looking for more and Robin McKinley’s many novels fit the bill perfectly.  The Blue Sword The Hero and The Crown are classic high fantasy adventures and coming of age tales full of action and romance while her many fairytale re-imaginings (including Spindle’s End, Beauty, Rose Daughter, and Deerskin) are by turns whimsical, dark, and fascinating.  spindle's endAlso, like the others on this list, they feature compelling and multifaceted heroines. They remain some of my favorite novels to this day and within the last few years I’ve happily recommended to both students and friends; just this past summer, I gave a copy of The Blue Sword to a friend as a wedding/honeymoon present.

gracelingGraceling (2009 Best Books for Young Adults, 2009 Morris Award Finalist) and Fire (2010 Best Books for Young Adults) by Kristin Cashore

During the winter and early spring of senior year of college, I was working on my senior thesis while also nervously awaiting news about graduate school.  Amidst this perfect storm of anxiety, I picked up Graceling and Fire by Kristin Cashore.  Both novels focus on highly powerful young women who are seeking not only to protect their countries but to discover truths about themselves and their destinies.  I not only fell in love with Cashore’s rich character development and compelling stories, I also felt a strong personal connection with the novels.  I might not possess supernatural powers or be able to save a nation but I too was struggling to discern my future and understand my own potential.

Which books have become part of your story?

-Kelly Dickinson, currently reading Killer of Enemies by Joseph Bruchac

Is This Just Fantasy?: LGBTQ+ Speculative Fiction

Just Fantasy LGBTQ+ spec ficAs this recurring feature on The Hub clearly indicates, I love fantasy fiction.  But even a fan like myself must acknowledge that the genre has limitations, especially in terms of diversity.  Speculative fiction has remained a fairly white, cis-gendered, & straight world for a long time.  The fact that there seem to be more dragons and robots than LGBTQ+ characters in fantasy & sci-fi novels is shameful and disheartening, especially to the genres’ LGBTQ+ fans.  So in celebration of LGBT Pride Month, I set out to overview the current status of LGBTQ+ representation in young adult fantasy and science fiction.

High Fantasy

ash_malindalo_500For readers interested in issues of diversity & representation in speculative fiction, Malinda Lo is one of the most exciting authors and insightful bloggers out there.  Her work is also the perfect introduction to high fantasy featuring LGBTQ+ characters.  For readers favoring fairy tale retellings, Malinda Lo’s Ash (2010 Morris Award Finalist, 2014 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults) is an ideal romantic read. In this delicate Cinderella story, an orphaned young woman seeks escape from pain in the promises of a dark fairy but begins to question her choice when she falls in love with the king’s huntress.  Meanwhile, readers looking for quest narratives featuring complex heroines should pick up Lo’s Huntress (2012 Best Fiction for Young Adults, 2012 Rainbow List, 2012 Amelia Bloomer List), which follows the journey of two very different young women as they attempt to restore balance to the world–and understand their intense connection.  Continue reading Is This Just Fantasy?: LGBTQ+ Speculative Fiction

Librarians Love: Fantasy & Sci-Fi Without Romance

by Stephen Poff
by Stephen Poff

YALSA-bk is a listserv with lively discussions among librarians, educators, and beyond about all things YA lit. Sometimes one listserv member will ask for help finding books around a certain theme or readalikes for a particular title. This post is a compilation of responses for one such request.

The original request
I’m looking for fantasy and science fiction books that have little to no romance. I know this was discussed recently, but I’m having trouble searching the archive.

Suggested titles
Continue reading Librarians Love: Fantasy & Sci-Fi Without Romance

Is This Just Fantasy?: Fantastic Adult Fiction For The Voracious YA Fantasy Fan

Just Fantasy crossover 1.jpgI love sharing, discussing, and contemplating fantasy fiction–especially with fellow fans and readers. Happily, opportunities for such conversations happen on an almost daily basis for me.  Many of the most voracious readers among my students are fantasy fans; even as their tastes expand, these readers return again and again to this genre.  So where’s an ardent fantasy reader to turn when she exhausts her local library’s supply of young adult fantasy? One solution is to expand the search area–into the  world of adult fantasy fiction.

ocean at the end of the laneFor some, the easiest entry into a new area of fiction is through an author. For example, Neil Gaiman writes highly imaginative fiction imbued with dark beauty and twisted humor; his adult fiction is highly popular with teens at my library. Fans of unusual fairytale retellings might start with delightful Stardust (2000 Alex Award) while urban and offbeat high fantasy readers should investigate American Gods or Neverwhere.   And frankly, all fantasy readers should read his most recent release, the enchanting The Ocean At The End of The Lane.   Continue reading Is This Just Fantasy?: Fantastic Adult Fiction For The Voracious YA Fantasy Fan