The recent, rapid ascent of young adult fiction has created a totally new paradigm in reading – a type of book marketed to both adults and young folks. This new category has not only ushered in a new wave of post-apocalyptic fantasies, but has also pulled attention from genre works in children’s fiction. With so many choices in both adult and YA fantasy, there seems little reason to look into juvenile literature. But readers would be mistaken, as there is a tremendous history of children’s fantasy that, while sometimes simple in structure and prose, can also be thematically rich and emotionally complex. Here are three choices from the past century that forgo any dystopian tropes for some classical optimism:
First, try L. Frank Baum’s 1900 classic THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ.
Far too often overshadowed by its 1939 film adaptation, Baum’s novel is at once more sincere, funny, and scary than the movie – which is saying something, considering how remarkable the film is. This is a children’s fantasy that directly confronts the fears and anxieties of the real world, and deals with our insecurities in a way that resonates today. It is not only a fiery piece of political allegory (reflecting on the inequality of turn-of-the-century America), but also empathetic and kind, and adult readers will find multitudes within.
If Oz is a little too antiquated for your taste, try THE BOOK OF THREE by Lloyd Alexander.
The first in his Chronicles of Prydain series, Three combines the dense world and mythology of Tolkien with the practical, seemingly everyday mysticism of Lewis. Based on real Welsh mythology, the series is a true coming-of-age story in that its protagonist, Taran, is constantly in a state of becoming, never fully turning into a hero but rather better understanding what it means to be heroic. This meditative tone is immensely satisfying, more than the gratifying wish-fulfilment of many modern fantasy stories, so that when victories do come, they truly mean something.
These books were rather unique in their own time, but are even more special today, when fantasy novels are inextricably tied to our own world and often involve “epic” stories, the planet’s fate often at stake. But there is an heir to Baum and Alexander’s more gentle fantasy in Colin Meloy’s WILDWOOD. The first of a trilogy, this story begins with a baby boy kidnapped by a murder of crows and taken into the deep woods bordering Portland, Oregon. The ensuing adventure involves ghosts, witches and woodland creatures, but it remains intimately about its protagonists and their hometown. The story is thoughtful and humane, magical and frightening, perhaps the platonic ideal of what a children’s fantasy ought to be.
New year, new you . . . and new YA! While 2015 was a banner year for young adult fiction, 2016 is sallying forth with a lot of new, groundbreaking titles for teens (and the teenaged at heart)! While trend predictions say high fantasy is going to make a comeback this year, many of the titles releasing in January are contemporary works like Francisco X. Stork’s THE MEMORY OF LIGHT and Kelly Fiore’s THICKER THAN WATER. Look to Sarah Fine’s THE IMPOSTOR QUEEN for engrossing high fantasy, or Alexandra Bracken’s PASSENGER for exceptional speculative fiction.
Here are the five titles I’m most excited to check out in January:
In FRONT LINES, bestselling author Michael Grant (the GONE series) gives readers an alternate history of World War II, in which women are given the right to enlist in the U.S. military. The novel follows three “soldier girls” through the horrors and challenges of the war, and doesn’t pull any punches when dealing with sexism, racism, and the violence of combat. Early reviews promise a novel with grit, guts, and heart – this is the book I’m most excited to read in January. I love YA novels – or any sort of story, really – where the girls save themselves.
High fantasy’s always in vogue here at the Provo Library! For readers who enjoyed Victoria Aveyard’s RED QUEEN (2015) or Sara Raasch’s SNOW LIKE ASHES (2014), try Sarah Fine’s IMPOSTOR QUEEN next. Sixteen-year-old Elli is the Saadella, training to inherit her country’s crown and its strongest fire and ice magic from the queen. But when the former queen dies and Elli receives no magic, she must flee for her life or be killed by the Saadella elders. Filled with magic, adventure, intrigue, and romance, this title will be a crowd-pleaser for the most demanding fantasy fans.
Francisco X. Stork’s a marvelous writer, one who focuses particularly and powerfully on teens dealing with mental health issues. His newest novel, A MEMORY OF LIGHT, introduces readers to sixteen-year-old Vicky Cruz, who, after her father sends her beloved yet aging nanny back to Mexico, tries to commit suicide. The novel’s focus, however, is on Vicky’s recovery and the friendships she builds with the other teenage patients in her hospital’s psych ward, relationships that (thankfully) help her discover reasons to keep living. Utah Valley currently has one of the highest rates of teen suicide in the U.S., so I consider novels like A MEMORY OF LIGHT and Jay Asher’s perennial THIRTEEN REASONS WHY (2007) to be integral to the library’s YA collection. Read this and pass it on.
“Everyone has reason to fear the boy with the gun.” Marieke Nijkamp’s novel takes an unrelenting, brutal look at the 54 minutes in which a teenage gunman holds his high school hostage and mass-murders teachers, students, and adminstrators alike. Told from the perspective of four teens who have personal relationships with the shooter, the novel chronicles the students’ attempts to either stop or survive the horror and heartbreak tearing their school apart. I wish “timely” wasn’t the adjective that came to mind as I tried to summarize this novel, but this book is basically ripped from the headlines. With more school shootings happening than ever before – and gun lockdowns happening as close as Pleasant Grove – THIS IS WHERE IT ENDS is an important novel for a difficult time.
Despite the ominous title, we’re ending on a bright note with Alison Goodman’s THE DARK DAYS CLUB. The novel’s one part Jane Austen, one part BUFFY, and all parts awesome. When one of the housemaids goes missing from eighteen-year-old orphan Lady Helen Wrexhall uncle’s household, Helen takes it upon herself to investigate. What she discovers is a circle of men and women pledged to defend English society against a dangerous (and demonic) enemy, an inheritance of supernatural abilities beyond her wildest dreams, and the love of a not-quite-so-proper English lord who may just understand her better than any other. Early reviews promise me this title is thoroughly researched; and while the pacing may be a little on the leisurely side, the payoff’s worth the wait. Highly recommended for fans of Gail Carriger’s ETIQUETTE AND ESPIONAGE (2013). Goodman’s THE DARK DAYS CLUB is a Regency romp on the dark side.
Make sure not to miss . . .
Find these and other great, brand new YA titles in the Teen Corner in the first floor reference wing!