Tag Archives: YA fiction

Platonically in Love with Radio Silence

radio-silence

He laughed again and hid his face under the blanket. “Why are you so nice to me?”
“Because I’m an angel.”
“You are.” He stretched out his arm and patted me on the head. “And I’m platonically in love with you.”
“That was literally the boy-girl version of ‘no homo’, but I appreciate the sentiment.”

Radio Silence p.108

[This post is mostly spoiler free! Minor spoilers are noted when they appear.]

Alice Oseman’s Radio Silence has rocketed into place alongside Fangirl and Afterworlds to form a sort of holy trifecta of YA books that effectively present and deal with fandom and creativity. Though, interestingly enough, out of those three Fangirl stands out like a sore thumb for being comparatively super straight and super white. But Radio Silence stands out, to me, as well as for being a book about creativity, for being a book that is overwhelmingly and positively about the love between friends. Which, though it’s an integral part of most people’s lives, you don’t normally see as the star concept of a novel.

Radio Silence follows seventeen-year-old British-Ethiopian study machine Frances Janvier, who knew she wanted to get into Cambridge University as soon as she heard of it at age ten and figured that was where the smart people went. She became Head Girl so it would look good on her Cambridge application. She has read hundreds of books she can’t really get her head around so the list will look long and impressive in her Cambridge interview. She’s not really friends with any of her friends because what she’s best at is studying, and when they make fun of her for being boring her immediate response is always “fair enough”. Her only spark of passion outside the Cambridge goal is a surreal sci-fi podcast called Universe City, which she secretly adores and spends her spare time drawing fan art for. So imagine her surprise when the podcast’s creator asks her to do the official art for the show… and imagine her double surprise when the creator turns out to be a quiet and unassuming friend-of-a-friend she knows in real life. Continue reading

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Reincarnation Stories in YA and Eternal Silliness

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Man, I read a lot of crappy paranormal YA in high school.

The novel Elegy—coming out this year—is about how “in a small Australian town, the most epic love story of all time is unfolding…. again”. Two teenaged stepsiblings, Michael and Caitlin, turn out to be the reincarnated souls of every major tragic mythic love story of the past: Pyramus and Thisbe are named, Lancelot and Guinevere are highly implied, and many more are vaguely alluded to along with the sweeping mention that they have been gods, slaves, and rulers in the past. The novel’s decision to be deliberately and irritatingly vague about everything in place of actually building tension and mystery is a gripe for another day, because oh, I have so many gripes about this book, the biggest one being something that should by all means be an absolute dealbreaker in any romance, especially romance that crosses time and space, but somehow slipped through and got published:

I have no idea why Caitlin and Michael like each other.

In fact… they don’t. They spent their entire childhoods being standoffish with one another, largely due to Caitlin remembering that they’ve lived a thousand magical lifetimes before and Michael not, and the emotional gulf this created. Even once his powers emerge (because he has those) he and Caitlin quite blatantly don’t get on most of the time, until some magical moment of bizarreness happens and they… I don’t know, decide to embrace it? Their personalities don’t change, and indeed neither does much of their dynamic except that Michael is more open to accepting his powers and place in the universe, and so they fall back into the patterns of the past. They are deeply passionate and in love, as they have been many times before, as they are doomed to always be. Because there’s nothing more romantic than doom. Continue reading

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Fairies, Aliens, Bisexuals and Other Fantastic Creatures: Alex Reads Malinda Lo

Malinda LoI always admire authors that can switch between genres with ease, just as I admire authors who can write progressive stuff without wholly making a fanfare of how progressive they’re being. And if nothing else, I have to admire Malinda Lo not just for her lovely and addictive prose but for her ability to create a problem opposite to what I usually have: being emotionally invested in a YA love triangle and legitimately interested in how it turns out, perhaps even more than my interest in the main spine of the story. Holy cow, right? Is that even possible?

Malinda Lo has two branches to her writing career, the first being the fantastical Ash and Huntress, set in the same world but many years apart, and the modern-day (quite literally set a little while into the future after it was written, which gives you a hell of a surreal feeling when the story dates itself at August 4th 2014 and you’re reading it on August 2nd) sci-fi conspiracies-and-aliens-and-psychic-powers-oh-my! duology Adaptation and Inheritance. As previously discussed, the two genres really are two sides of the same coin, and though I feel like she has an easier grip of her fantasy books (the writing is much prettier, in any case) each of Lo’s series are as enjoyable as each other and retain an aftertaste recognisable to all her writing. And bisexuals. Did I mention that?

Sorry, I’m just a little excited. Apparently it’s a tricky thing to deal with in fiction, most likely because it’s also a tricky thing to deal with in real life and the swathes of erasure and negative stigmas against bisexual people in both. Which is a shame, because first of all and on a serious note, that’s ruining a lot of lives and pushing a lot of people into closets they don’t want to be in. And secondly because, as I talked about before, there’s something inherently interesting about a multi-gender love triangle, perhaps because it’s just a break from the norm (girl torn between two hunks, or hunk with two girls at war over him, typically) or because people attracted to more than one gender simply gives way to even larger and wackier love quadrangle shenanigans. I love a good tangle of affection, when they’re done well. And my gosh does Malinda Lo do it well. Continue reading

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No Good Guys in Slytherin: YA and Box-Putting

Hogwarts crest

The Sorting Hat has run off with the Scarf of Sexual Preference, so we’re just going to put everyone who looks like a good guy into Gryffindor and everyone who looks like a bad guy into Slytherin.

A Very Potter Musical Act I

I admit it—even though I’m not a self-described Harry Potter fanatic, it did capture my heart when I was younger and yes, I did create a self-indulgent fantastical scenario in my head and a little bit on paper where my friends and I went to study at Hogwarts. Frankly, I wouldn’t have lasted a day among the moving staircases and giant spiders (then again, having lived in Australia, maybe I’d just take such things in stride), but it was still fun. There was, of course, the big, crucial question of what house I’d end up in, as there somehow often is when it comes to fantastical or sci-fi series aimed at young people. I grabbed at straws and decided I was bookish and got good grades so I stuck myself in Ravenclaw.

Thinking about it now, I value my sense of loyalty over my smarts, so I’d be more of a Hufflepuff person, but they always kind of seemed like The Other Ones among the much more majestic houses, even when they did give us the occasional major character. Their emblem is a badger, for heaven’s sake. Lion? Badger? Weigh it up. Hell, even a snake is cooler, and those are the bad guys. Well, technically if you’re in Slytherin all it means is that your dominant trait is your cunning, but that’s the trouble with putting characters into groups, isn’t it? We come to associate them and their ilk with certain connotations.

To be fair, Slytherin also favours pureblooded wizards, so by extension they’re also all a bunch of racists. That can’t be true for every member of the house, though. What if you’re a cunning, self-serving little dude who’s also smart and brave? Would the Sorting Hat freeze up? Surely there have been Divergent style Hogwarts students who haven’t fit neatly into one house because they have more than one outgoing attribute, or students that have wanted to transfer halfway through because their personality changes and develops as they mature into young adults? Shock and horror, YA characters not fitting into boxes. Usually it’s cause for revolution, but not always, but either way it’s an interesting trend to look at in media aimed at young-uns. Continue reading

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Dystopias: Not the End of the World

Divergent movie poster

Are those pants comfy enough to change the world in…?

A dystopian future, a corrupt system of ruling, and a teenager that’s destined to bring it down. Sound familiar? ‘Course it does, my friends. Dystopias are everywhere you look, mostly dominating the YA market. This is not me griping about everyone’s unoriginality, because let’s face it, there are only so many plot frameworks that exist in the world and writing something that isn’t ‘new’ is not a problem if it’s done well. What I am wondering is what exactly this obsession with terrible future governments and the kids that take them apart says about us as writers and consumers.

It’s not as if this is a modern trend—people have been coming up with dystopian stories for as long as there have been governments to satirise or comment on, from totalitarian visions like George Orwell’s 1984 to William Gibson’s brand of cyberpunk. As one of my friends is fond of reminding me, The Hunger Games is in no way revolutionary since the exact same idea is played with in the ‘80s movie Running Man and the Japanese novel Battle Royale. So no, nothing about this love for crappy systems pitting characters against each other is very new.

The fact that it’s emerged so strongly in the young adult section is interesting to me, though. There could be a lot of reasons for that: seeing children affected drives home how horrible things really are in this imagined world, young people have always been associated with revolution and new ideas, and we all have an instinctive fear that teenaged girls have the power to destroy us. Well, fair enough. Continue reading

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If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Adapt It

Paper Towns alternate covers

A Paper Towns movie? Have I heard these digital whispers correctly? It seems I have. Of course, not every movie deal that gets hand-shook ends up seeing the light of day, and we have yet to see how The Fault in Our Stars, another adaptation of a John Green novel produced by the same people reportedly putting together Paper Towns, goes when it hits cinemas in June. Still, my air of dubiousness has been, regret to say, riled up again on the subject of book-to-movie adaptations. Here we go again, friends.

My number one gripe about this industry is making movies of books not because they would make good movies, but because the book is popular. The fans are calling wistfully for a moving picture adaptation to bring their beloved vision to life. The Hollywood moguls see a potential project to cash in on. Everyone wants to see a book they enjoyed come to life, but the wall that train of thought runs into is that the movie that it becomes will never be the one you saw in your head while reading it, simply because sometimes the magic of a novel comes from the medium it’s in. A good book does not always make a good movie.

At one end of the spectrum (let’s look to YA, because that’s the big market at the moment it seems) we have The Hunger Games, which made awesome movies that are almost complementary to if not more enjoyable at times than the novels. They worked because of the action-packed nature of the plot (though people in the “why do we have to watch her sitting in a goddamn tree” school of thought will disagree with me there) and the quick, snappy style it’s written in, helped by the fact the novels were structured like a screenplay with a three-act framework Suzanne Collins picked up from being a scriptwriter. A quieter, more introspective novel like Paper Towns that revolves around everyday teenagers is immediately not blockbuster fuel. It’s a good book, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to make a good movie, in fact, in making a movie of that you might lose a good chunk of what exactly makes it good in the first place. Continue reading

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Love Bi-Angles

biangle

Love triangles as A Thing still peeve me on a deep and fundamental level. However, there’s a strangely unexplored variation on them that I allow the good grace of being interesting. Bisexual love triangles—food for thought, no? Your plucky teenaged heroine sits at the centre of a romantic subplot trying to choose between two love interests as she invariably does, yet one of them is a guy and the other is a girl. It’s simple enough, and good in a lot of ways, yet it’s so far underused in mainstream fiction.

Firstly, they acknowledge that bisexuals exist, if only in a fantastical fictional context because of course they’re a mythical creature of the woodlands in the world we live in. And, in having said bisexual as the main character, they’re immediately presented as sympathetic and heroic and, you know, a normal well-rounded character and person, and not marginalised, stereotyped or included to be titillating. And a full blown love triangle calls for proper development of their relationship, both with their male and female love interests, which staves off the problem bisexual heroines can run into where they’re only labelled as bi in passing because they made out with a girl in university, which is either used for comedy, fan service or a reject-shop-cheap attempt at being inclusive and modern.

It also gives you an immediate second major female character, which is always nice. It’s a little refreshing to see a break from the tried-and-died formula of heroine torn between two hunks! and again, allows for a legit LGBTQ+ relationship to be fleshed out in fiction and provides characters that readers who don’t fit the traditional mould can see themselves in. Of course, including another girl as one point of the triangle doesn’t magically elevate the story from the pit of clichés and problems that teen love triangles seem to be rooted in. E.g., If you’ve got a heroine wobbling to pieces trying to work out what her feelings are doing when she should be focussing on saving the world from whatever, it’s not going to be any less annoying just because one of her love interests is a young woman. There are pros as well as cons to this flip-flop of the norm, as there are with most things that end up in books. Continue reading

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