Why Me? Reluctant Superheroes in YA Lit

Now that I am all caught up on my television shows, I am starting to look ahead to what will grace my DVR in the fall.  Season premiere time is always exciting, especially when there is some type of literary connection.  However, the upcoming show that is leaving me full of hope and anticipation is Supergirl.

https://youtu.be/Lm46-envrHo

In the DC universe, Supergirl is from the same planet as Superman. In fact, she is his older cousin.  However, something happened where she was suspended in time and came to planet Earth well after Clark Kent already established the house of El.  You know, the big S.

This show seems to be following the proper age gap of Kara Zor-El being younger and more inexperienced with her powers than her super famous cousin Kal-El.  She struggles with using them, controlling them, and what path she is supposed to take with them.

Which led me to thinking about books where our main characters are struggling to deal with their powers, or the implications of their powers, in some way.  I would love to have superpowers!  However, I really don’t know how I would react if power, greatness, and expectations were thrust upon me along with the ability to fly, super strength, and be able to shoot laser beams from my eyes.

So, to celebrate the authentic feelings that Kara is going through, here are a few books where in which our main characters are not always sure what to do with themselves or their powers.

gracelingGraceling by Kristin Cashore (2009 Best Books for Young Adults)

Katsa lives in a world where some have gracelings-.  An abilitiesy that allow them to do something exceedingly well.  Some people can work well with animals, some are expert swordsmen or archers.  Katsa’s graceling is the ability to kill.  No matter the size of her opponent, their ability, or strength, she always come out on top.  However, this comes with some complications, especially when her uncle, a ruthless king, decides to use her gifts for his gain.  Continue reading Why Me? Reluctant Superheroes in YA Lit

The Tenth Day of YA

The Twelve Days of YAThis year on the Hub we are celebrating the Twelve Days of YA with a series of posts loosely based on the traditional Twelve Days of Christmas gifts. We have converted each gift into a related theme common to YA and paired it with a list of relevant titles. You may use the Twelve Days of YA tag to read all of the posts in the series.

Special thanks goes to Carli Spina, Faythe Arredondo, Sharon Rawlins, Geri Diorio, Becky O’Neil, Carla Land, Katie Yu, Laura Perenic, Jennifer Rummel, Libby Gorman, Carly Pansulla, Anna Dalin, and Allison Tran for their help creating the booklists and organizing this series.

On the tenth day of YA, my true love gave to me ten lords-a-leaping.

When looking for lords-a-leaping, there was only one place to turn in YA lit – high fantasy. These lords are often doing a lot more than leaping and pretty frequently they are actually ladies out there kicking butt. We hope you enjoy the high fantasy adventures that we picked and encourage you to share your favorites in the comments!

       

      

       

– Jessica Lind, currently reading Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins

2014 Teens’ Top Ten: An Interview with Leigh Bardugo

The Teens Top Ten winners have been out for a few weeks and I was so pleased to see Leigh Bardugo’s Siege and Storm, the second book of her New York Times bestselling Grisha trilogy on the list. I’m happy to present a brief interview with Leigh about her work and series in general. If you’re interested in reading the rest of our Teens’ Top Ten interview series, take a look!

Congratulations to Leigh; many thanks for answering these questions and letting me clarify on Twitter! If you’re looking for more about Leigh be sure to check out her website, Tumblr, and Goodreads page.

To me there are distinct classes in the Ravka (peasants, Grisha, royalty) and different kids of Grisha who at first stay within their own group. You have set up the binary of light and dark, Alina and the Darkling, but things blur a bit by end. So how does the blending of Alina and the Darkling, dark/light inform your view of Ravka by the end and your view of our world? Are things really so different from each other?

I do think life would be a lot easier if people, decisions, experiences could be categorized as either purely bad or good, but that’s pretty rare, and I try my best to make sure my fiction reflects that. What’s the point in creating a dictator a reader wouldn’t be tempted to follow? Why should a heroine be immune to greed for power just because her cause is supposedly just? The action of the trilogy takes place during a time of tremendous upheaval and I think it’s natural that you’d see a breakdown in the traditional order of things. But I also think it’s worth noting that, even at the end of the trilogy, Ravka remains pretty stratified in terms of class. It was tempting to just tear down all the walls and shout, “Democracy!” but that wouldn’t have been true to the world I created.

Photo by Kevin Rolly
Photo by Kevin Rolly

You used to be a makeup artist, so how does working with the creation of an image, models, makeup, and perception influence your work as a writer, other than the perhaps obvious character of Genya?

Interesting question. I think teens are keenly aware of the way beauty and image operate as a commodities, and I wanted to deal honestly with that in the story. Genya is definitely the biggest way my work as a makeup artist carried over into my writing—not just in her skillset, but in the way she embodies both beauty’s power and its limitations. That said, Nikolai and the Darkling are also invested in the power of image. They both have a gift for spectacle and are master manipulators—each playing to his own strengths. But Alina learns from their examples and, by the final book in the trilogy, she’s beginning to use her own public image strategically and become a political player in her own right.

Continue reading 2014 Teens’ Top Ten: An Interview with Leigh Bardugo

2014 Teens’ Top Ten: So You Want to Read Leigh Bardugo? Fire Up the Samovar and Make Yourself Comfortable!

Photo by Kevin Rolly
Photo by Kevin Rolly

Congratulations for Leigh Bardugo on Siege and Storm‘s inclusion in the Teens’ Top Ten! These books are amazing and if you haven’t read them yet, what are you waiting for? You’ve heard all of your friends chattering excitedly about Leigh Bardugo‘s Grisha Trilogy but can’t decide if you want to read it. Luckily, we here at The Hub can help.  To start off, here’s the plot:

Ravka is split down the middle by a horrifying sea of shadows called the Unsea populated by terrifying undead creatures. The royalty is doing nothing and the Grisha are the only ones working to stop it. They are led by the formidable and secretive Darkling who can control shadows. Using the small science – magic-like command of various elements – the Grisha work air, blood, metal, and more. Newly discovered as the long awaited Sun Summoner, Alina is an orphan who never thought she was anything more than a map maker. When the Darkling’s secrets are revealed, Alina the Sun Summoner who can control light is called upon to wage war against the Darkness and try to heal the country. With help from her best friend (and love?) Mal and a great cast of characters they set out to save the world.

And then here are the top five reasons why you should read it.

kefta
From Leigh’s kefta Pinterest board

1. It’s a fantasy set in a “tsarpunk” fantasy Russia-like land: The setting is inspired by Russian folktales and the world of the tsars. Check out Leigh’s military and “tsarpunk” Pinterest board that she used in creating this fascinating world.It’s got keftas beautiful and functional garments like a caftan that the Grisha wear. The language used in the books is Russian inspired and the world is infused with Russian mythology and folklore. For anyone who ever was fascinated by the Romanovs, Russian literature, and fantasy, these books are for you.

2. It has a diverse set of characters: Not only is it diverse in terms of the fantasy land –  it’s got magic, different types of love, scientists, pirates, religious folk, and more – it also has characters of different colors from lands bordering Ravka and two female characters who fall in love. Writing an answer to a question about the lesbian characters, Leigh affirms their place in our world and Ravka.

3. It’s an exciting story with  fascinating themes and meanings: The folktale of the Firebird plays a huge role here. Going through a major Russian phase in middle and high school I listened to a lot of Stravinksy’s Firebird suite and pretended my name was either Anna Romanov or Anna Karenina, depending on how tragic I felt that day. Bardugo’s books evoke tragedy but still rise with the frenetic energy of the firebird. It’s thrilling to watch as the two themes unfold. The interplay between light and darkness, and the tension between duty and desire make the series stand out as especially compelling.

4. Alina Starkov is the hero for our times: You know the strong female character trend that is sweeping YA books, movies, and beyond? I think it’s pretty great because women and girls deserve to have amazing adventures and be the heroines of their stories just as much as boys. But you know what my problem with the “strong female character” trope is? Sometimes the girls can be really unemotional and cold; like they have sacrificed their complicity for human compassion for sweet karate skills or something. Not so with Alina. She is very powerful but she has heart, doubts, vulnerabilities, and feels conflicted about her involvement with Mal, the Darkling, and her use of the amplifiers, special talismans harvested from animals to help her use her powers.

Fan art from @tiffkuan from Leigh's Tumblr
Fan art from @tiffkuan from Leigh’s Tumblr

5. The fan art is beautiful: I love fan art and the lush setting and deep characters lend themselves to some amazing art. Take a look at some of the examples on Leigh’s Tumblr.

5 1/2. Finally, a fun side note: Leigh used to be a makeup artist before she started writing. This comes out gloriously in her character Genya who uses Grisha powers to transform people’s faces and appearances!

If you need more reasons to read the Grisha trilogy check out some of Leigh’s interviews and various websites.

Her next book, Six of Crows, is set in the Grisha-verse but takes place in Kerch, an island in the true sea off Ravka. We know Leigh has been really busy, so hopefully we will be able to feature our interview with her soon. Stayed tuned for that!

-Anna Tschetter, currently reading Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

 

Horror Survival Skills from YA Books

Modified from Flickr user Alan Bruce.
Modified from Flickr user Alan Bruce.

It’s the day before Halloween and perhaps this month you’ve watched a horror movie marathon or read a scary book. Have you ever  been watching one of those movies or reading one of those books, and it’s the scene where the hero/heroine walks into the dark, obviously haunted house to hide from the killer and you scream, “Don’t go in there!?”

Then they do. You all know better, right?

I often have this experience and wonder what I would do if I was in those terrifying situations, running from zombies or trying to fend off a serial killer. Since I don’t have a lot of confidence in my survival abilities, I will turn to the hobby I have a lot of confidence in: reading! I propose turning to the examples of plucky, resourceful, and brave heroes and heroines in YA literature to save you from the frights of Halloween and beyond.

Here are a few books you may want to read to prepare you for a few scary situations.

Scary situation # 1: Haunted by Ghosts

Constable & Toop by Gareth P. Jones: Have you considered reasoning with the ghosts that haunt you? It works out fairly well for Sam Toop even though he is trying to save the ghosts, not save himself from ghosts. A little kindness goes a long away and maybe the ghost haunting you just wants a friend.

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson (2012 Best Fiction for Young Adults): It’d be great if you could see the ghosts haunting you and could send them away with the tool of a special too like Rory, but if not consider assembling a crackerjack team of ghost hunters. Safety in numbers is always a good idea.

Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake: If all else fails, try to get your hands on a ghost-killing knife like Cas. At the very least get a cat. Tybalt, Cas’s cat, senses ghosts like some people believe all cats to do. Continue reading Horror Survival Skills from YA Books

Russia-Infused YA Lit

Photo by Jessica Lind
Photo by Jessica Lind

One year ago today, my first post for The Hub, From Russia with YA, went live. Today, I am celebrating my blogiversary with another Russian-related topic: the abundance of YA lit being published with a Russian connection.

Over the past couple of years, it seems that Russia (or the USSR) has been popping up everywhere! At first, I thought I was only noticing this theme because I moved here, much like how the world felt like it was suddenly filled with weddings as soon as I got engaged. I had a few conversations with friends who did not have the same connection and they had noticed it, too.

What is it about Russia that makes for such an interesting background in YA lit? Is it simply because it is a country that has such a long history filled with royalty, religion, and rebellion? Did the Cold War draw a clear line between the cultures of the US and the USSR, making life in Russia seem even more distant and distinct, a novelty?

The books that I have included in this post focus on various aspects of Russian history and culture, across a range of historical time periods. None of these books are contemporary stories (the most recent occur during the Soviet Union) and most include elements of fantasy and the supernatural. It seems that something about Russia cries out for the inclusion of magic – even a story of spies and ballet is open to a supernatural addition!

  • shadow_and_bone_coverThe Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo (Shadow and Bone2013 Best Fiction for Young Adults, 2013 Readers’ Choice)
    • The Grisha trilogy is a Russian-influenced high-fantasy series based on magical powers and battles between light and dark. Bardugo used elements of Russian culture and language to create a completely new world. Some readers have expressed frustration with her departure from the traditional rules and customs of Russia, for example not following the proper gendering of surnames, but the Grisha trilogy is a separate fantasy world, not an attempt to recreate the actual culture.  Continue reading Russia-Infused YA Lit