Posts tagged ‘race’

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.

June 2, 2011

Colorful Characters: YA Lit and Diversity

by renata

Previously, I posted about my difficulty in creating questions for my book discussion group project. But I finally came up with some, hooray! You can view the finished project here (including book summaries and all the discussion questions I slaved over.) I spent a lot of time thinking about how to talk about race and culture in a way that didn’t sound awkward. I think this is something a lot of white Americans spend a lot of time thinking about (or else no time at all). I ended up calling my project the “Multicultural Voices Book Discussion Group,” though I’m still not happy with the name.

Ultimately, I think discussion of race and culture is something that can often be done more effectively in YA books than in adult books. (I think this might also be true of sexuality.) YA books often deal with a search for a sense of self, which includes a search for racial or cultural identity. YA narrators can often pull off a more self-conscious discussion of race than adult narrators. This is important on a literal level as well as on a metaphorical level.

Too, young people are more accepting of change. It’s realistic to have YA characters questioning the status quo in a way that many adult characters would be incapable of doing. (Not necessarily the case, of course. Look at Atticus Finch.) Even so, it’s hard to talk about issues of race without talking about race and being too heavy-handed. Racism as experienced today is subtle. We no longer have “whites only” drinking fountains, but wealthy suburbs might have de facto whites only schools. Young black teens might not be explicitly barred from entering certain stores, but they might be tailed by security the entire time they shop (as seen on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air).

FreshPrince

Fresh, but Persecuted

Also, discussing race does not have to equal talking about racism. Books, YA and otherwise, can feature characters celebrating their culture, or even taking it for granted. We can and should have books about black characters who aren’t defined by being black. We also can and should have books about white American characters who seriously engage with what it means to be white. I can’t think of any YA books that really do that. If you know of any, please leave them in the comments! Alternately, please write one.

Anyway, here are the eight books I chose for my Multicultural Voices discussion group:

I picked these eight not necessarily because they are my eight favorite books, but to provide a variety of viewpoints and racial/cultural identities. Of these, my favorites are The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (an instant classic and a must-read, in my opinion), Ten Things I Hate About Me, and Ask Me No Questions. Cuba 15 by Nancy Osa is another great novel, and I really admire the way it shows its protagonist grappling with all the political and personal ramifications of being Cuban-American. In retrospect, I probably should have included this book instead of Return to Sender, and I say this as an ardent admirer of Julia Alvarez’s work for adults (In The Time of the Butterflies is an all-time favorite.)  Return to Sender is the only book of these eight with a white narrator, and it’s really more of a middle grade novel than a YA novel.

PS: I have a future blog entry in mind that will be dedicated to giving Justine Larbalestier a gold star for her YA books and their treatment of race. I am sure you’re all on the edge of your seats waiting for it.

What are your favorite YA novels that deal with race? Are they by Justine Larbalestier? Why or why not?

May 3, 2011

Book Club

by renata

First, a follow-up on prom. It turns out that Laurie Halse Anderson wrote a book about prom. It’s cunningly entitled Prom. I’m definitely adding it to my to-read list, since if anybody can write a somewhat-normal book about prom, it’s probably her. David Levithan and Daniel Ehrenhaft have also edited a YA anthology called 21 Proms, which includes a story by my YA lit crush, John Green, so I will also check that out. Perhaps there is hope for some decent prom stories after all!

And now, on to me talking about my homework. I’m working on creating a “book club discussion portfolio,” which requires me to choose a theme and select an appropriate set of books, and then create promotional materials and discussion questions. I’ve somewhat ambitiously chosen racial identity as my theme and I am now discovering how terrible I am at writing discussion questions. I keep catching myself writing questions like “Do you think you are racist?” and “Did you hate [character]?” These are not productive questions. The very act of trying to write these questions is giving me a greater understanding of the books. It’s also making me really glad that I decided to pursue librarianship rather than teaching.

Do you like book clubs? There is a YA book club on campus that I sometimes attend. I like talking about books, of course, but sometimes it gets very heated. Our Mockingjay discussion particularly got my blood running! Who knew there were so many Katniss-haters out there? Not me. And those opinions are wrong and must be corrected. … Right?

And now, for your enjoyment, a few of the discussion questions I’ve been slaving over, with annotations.

For Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian:Absolutely True Diary

How do you interpret the book’s title? Is Junior really a “Part-Time Indian”? Is his story “Absolutely True”? (I almost added “What does it mean to be ‘true’?” but I thought that might be getting a little heavy for a high school book club.)

For Julia Alvarez’s Return to Sender:

How would you react if you found out that your parents were hiring undocumented workers on their farm? (This book’s narrator is a white kid who is basically terrified of immigrants and any perceived threats to “homeland security.” I basically could not stand him and had a hard time writing any discussion questions that did not reflect my hatred of him.)

For Walter Dean Myers’ Slam:

Slam is one of a handful of minority students at a primarily white school, and he thinks he got in “when they had all the fuss about getting more black kids to go to the magnet schools.” How diverse would you rate your school? What effect do you think diversity has on classroom learning? (It was really hard for me to write any questions about this book that were not extremely leading. But my target audience for this project is largely white Midwestern teenagers who probably have not given much thought about what it’s like to be one of the few minorities at their school. Think about it, kids!! And adults!! If I ever actually lead a book club discussion on this book it will probably end with me screaming at everyone.)

 

Discussion Questions

Have you ever had to write discussion questions? Why or why not?

Would you like to write some discussion questions for my project? Discuss.

If you could discuss anything, what would you discuss?

Would you rather discuss discos or discuses? Would you rather throw discos or discuses?

What would Katniss Everdeen do if people said mean things about her at book club?