Posts tagged ‘fantasy’

November 3, 2011

Race in YA Fantasy

by renata

This morning I went to a talk by one of my professors on the subject of Race and Fantasy Literature for Youth. Her talk was fascinating, and she provided us with a suggested reading list. These books provide a variety of perspectives on race in fantasy. Some authors use fantasy to talk metaphorically about race relations. Other authors more closely reflect actual race relations but use fantastic elements to subvert or otherwise explore race. I haven’t read any of these books (though I have read other works by some of these authors), but after hearing about them I want to read all of them!

I’m just going to provide the Amazon links and summaries for these, since I haven’t read them. This list of suggested reading was prepared by Dr. Kate McDowell and is part of the reading list for her YA Fantasy Literature course at UIUC.

Watersmeet

Ellen Abbott, Watersmeet.

From her birth, Abisina has been outcast–for the color of her eyes and skin, and for her lack of a father. Only her mother’s status as the village healer has kept her safe. But when a mythic leader arrives, Abisina’s life is ripped apart. She escapes alone to try to find the father and the home she has never known. In a world of extremes, from the deepest prejudice to the greatest bonds of duty and loyalty, Abisina must find her own way and decide where her true hope lies.

Malorie Blackman, Black and White. (Called Naughts and Crosses in the UK.)

True enemies. False hope.

Sephy is part of the ruling class. Callum is considered a second-class citizen. They have been friends all their lives, since before there were barriers and boundaries. Now, things are different — they have to meet in secret, as hate and violence seethe dangerously close to the surface of their society’s fragile order.

Once, Sephy and Callum thought they had to proect their love; now, they must defend their very lives….

Joseph Bruchac, Skeleton Man.

Ever since the morning Molly woke up to find that her parents had vanished, her life has become filled with terrible questions. Where have her parents gone? Who is this spooky old man who’s taken her to live with him, claiming to be her great-uncle? Why does he never eat, and why does he lock her in her room at night? What are her dreams of the Skeleton Man trying to tell her? There’s one thing Molly does know. She needs to find some answers before it’s too late.

Nancy Farmer, The Ear, The Eye, and The Arm.

In Zimbabwe in 2194, General Matsika calls in Africa’s most unusual detectives – “the Ear, the Eye, and the Arm” – to find his missing children.

Virginia Hamilton, The House of Dies Drear.

The house held secrets, Thomas knew, even before he first saw it looming gray and massive on its ledge of rock. It had a century-old legend — two fugitive slaves had been killed by bounty hunters after leaving its passageways, and Dies Drear himself, the abolitionist who had made the house into a station on the Underground Railroad, had been murdered there. The ghosts of the three were said to walk its rooms….

Justine Larbalestier, Magic or Madness.

For fifteen years, Reason Cansino has lived on the run.Together with her mother, Sarafina, she has moved from one place to another in the Australian countryside, desperate not to be found by Reason’s grandmother Esmeralda, a dangerous woman who believes in magic. But the moment Reason walks through Esmeralda’s back door and finds herself on a New York City street, she’s confronted by an unavoidable truth— magic is real.

Voices

Ursula LeGuin, Voices.

Ansul was once a peaceful town filled with libraries, schools, and temples. But that was long ago, and the conquerors of this coastal city consider reading and writing to be acts punishable by death. And they believe the Oracle House, where the last few undestroyed books are hidden, is seething with demons. But to seventeen-year-old Memer, the house is the only place where she feels truly safe.

Then an Uplands poet named Orrec and his wife, Gry, arrive, and everything in Memer’s life begins to change. Will she and the people of Ansul at last be brave enough to rebel against their oppressors?


Julius Lester, Time’s Memory.

Amma is the creator god, the master of life and death, and he is worried. His people have always known how to take care of the spirits of the dead – the nyama – so that they don’t become destructive forces among the living. But amid the chaos of the African slave trade and the brutality of American slavery, too many of his people are dying and their souls are being ignored in this new land. Amma sends a young man, Ekundayo, to a plantation in Virginia where he becomes a slave on the eve of the Civil War. Amma hopes that Ekundayo will be able to find a way to bring peace to the nyama before it is too late. But Ekundayo can see only sorrow in this land – sorrow in the ownership of people, in the slaves who have been separated from their children and spouses, in the restless spirits of the dead, and in his own forbidden relationship with his master’s daughter.

How Ekundayo finds a way to bring peace to both the dead and the living makes this an unforgettable journey into the slave experience and Julius Lester’s most powerful work to date.

Akata Witch

Nnedi Okorafor, Akata Witch.

Twelve-year-old Sunny lives in Nigeria, but she was born American. Her features are African, but she’s albino. She’s a terrific athlete, but can’t go out into the sun to play soccer. There seems to be no place where she fits. And then she discovers something amazing – she is a “free agent,” with latent magical power. Soon she’s part of a quartet of magic students, studying the visible and invisible, learning to change reality. But will it be enough to help them when they are asked to catch a career criminal who knows magic too?

Robert Paul Weston, Dust City.

Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf?

His son, that’s who.

Ever since his father’s arrest for the murder of Little Red Riding Hood, teen wolf Henry Whelp has kept a low profile in a Home for Wayward Wolves . . . until a murder at the Home leads Henry to believe his father may have been framed.

Now, with the help of his kleptomaniac roommate, Jack, and a daring she-wolf named Fiona, Henry will have to venture deep into the heart of Dust City: a rundown, gritty metropolis where fairydust is craved by everyone-and controlled by a dangerous mob of Water Nixies and their crime boss leader, Skinner.

Can Henry solve the mystery of his family’s sinister past? Or, like his father before him, is he destined for life as a big bad wolf?

Laurence Yep, City of Fire.

When her older sister dies trying to prevent the theft of one of her people’s great treasures, Scirye sets out to avenge her and recover the precious item. Helping her are Bayang, a dragon disguised as a Pinkerton agent; Leech, a boy with powers he has not yet discovered; and Leech’s loyal companion Koko, who has a secret of his own. All have a grudge against the thieves who stole the treasure: the evil dragon Badik and the mysterious Mr. Roland.

Scirye and her companions pursue the thieves to Houlani, a new Hawaiian island being created by magic. There, they befriend Pele, the volatile and mercurial goddess of volcanoes. But even with Pele on their side, they may not be able to stop Mr. Roland from gaining what he seeks: the Five Lost Treasures of Emperor Yu. Together, they will give him the power to alter the very fabric of the universe….

Don’t those all sound great? I can’t wait to start reading them!

Also, I don’t remember if I’ve mentioned it on this blog or not, but Liar by Justine Larbalestier is one of my all-time favorite YA books. Incredibly complicated and cool and twisty. Definitely worth checking out, but I don’t want to tell you anything about it because you should be surprised by it.

October 14, 2011

Rock Me, Bartimaeus (and other thoughts on fantasy)

by renata

This week was FANTASY WEEK in my children’s literature class! We read: The Ring of Solomon by Jonathan Stroud, Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt*, and Sector 7 by David Wiesner.

But I just want to talk about The Ring of Solomon. Jonathan Stroud was not at all on my radar until I saw him at the ALA conference this summer. (He was on a panel with David Levithan, which is why I went to that panel.) He was completely funny and charming and I made a note to myself that I should really pick up some of his books sometime. But there are just so many other books out there, and I never got around to it until it turned up on my booklist for class.

The Ring of Solomon by Jonathan Stroud

The Ring of Solomon is technically a prequel to the Bartimaeus trilogy, but we were assured that it stands on its own. And it does–I had no trouble understanding the character or the plot. He’s a bitter, immortal djinni. Got it. Others in class who had read the whole trilogy thought that Ring of Solomon was weaker than the other three, but I will have to take their word for it.

I enjoyed Ring of Solomon well enough. Bartimaeus, a world-weary, clever, sarcastic djinni, is a hilarious narrator, and his wry footnotes brought to mind a magical David Foster Wallace. The book itself, I feel, could have benefited from a better editor. It was maybe 100 pages too long. The first two thirds of the book dragged on, mired in description and long asides. The payoff was probably worth it–it had a very elaborate and satisfying ending.

Genie

You ain't never had a friend like Bartimaeus

I understand that there are some fantasy readers who love long descriptions of made-up worlds. I am not one of them. I don’t want to have to keep checking the magical glossary to see what kind of magic is happening. I do not want my books to come with maps of fictional lands. (Technically The Ring of Solomon has a map of the Middle East, which is probably a real place., although I’ve never been there.) But I know that not everyone shares these opinions. If you love magical glossaries and sassy genies, you will probably love the Bartimaeus books. For me, I give The Ring of Solomon three Robin Williamses out of a possible five.

For class, we also have to pick one classic children’ book we never got around to reading before. I’m reading Ursula LeGuin’s A Wizard of Earthsea for this assignment. I’m only 2/3 through it so I won’t give it a full review, but so far, reading it has made me realize what I value in fantasy books: a sense of humor. Jonathan Stroud has one. J.K. Rowling has one. C.S. Lewis has one. Patricia Wrede has one. Terry Pratchett has at least two. If Ursula LeGuin has a sense of humor, she has that thing locked up in a dungeon somewhere and allowed it nowhere near A Wizard of Earthsea. Yikes.

* There was some debate about whether or not Tuck Everlasting is actually fantasy, and although it does not have unicorns or dragons, it does have a fountain of immortality, so.