Tag Archives: YA

Boy Meets Boy: A Fantasy Novel…?

boy meets boy

Boy Meets Boy is a sweet little story about the complications and shenanigans of adolescence and first love, set in a world so accepting of its LGBTQ+ youth that it broke genre. Critics and reviewers had no idea how to categorise this novel when talking about it. By all counts, it’s a contemporary YA romance: as author David Levithan himself described it, it’s a pretty simple “boy meets boy, boy loses boy, boy gets boy back” love story. The difference is, of course, that that plot is usually “boy meets girl”. It’s this queer twist on a recognisable formula, combined with the delightful unusualness of the story’s setting, that sent everyone into a headspin. This novel could not simply be labelled a YA love story—it had to be “fantasy” “utopian” or “magical realism”. The whole thing conjures up the mental image of an office full of reviewers clutching at their hair, staring into space, muttering “but the gay kids are happy—so it can’t be realistic fiction!” Continue reading

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Filed under Archetypes and Genre, Fun with Isms

Clancy of the Undertow: A Delightful and Unconventional YA Protagonist

Clancy

Remember how I said I hadn’t read any novels since the start of the year? Yeah, poor Clancy of the Undertow has been sitting, patiently, on my desk since literally February. Which is a damned shame, I tell you—this was a wonderful little queer coming of age story set to a wonderfully rich (but not overdone) backdrop of small town Australia, paring back what could have been a story all about The Hardships of Being Gay in a Small Town to an intricate and fun character study of our titular leading lady, Clancy. Though it was recommended (and loaned, by a generous person who now finally has their book back after seven months) to me on the basis of it being Some Good, Good Gay YA, Clancy’s sexuality isn’t the focus of the book nor the focus of her character arc. It’s much more than that, and Clancy is built into a detailed, believable picture of a girl that became one of my favourite YA protagonists I’ve come across. Continue reading

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Filed under Alex Reads, And I Think That's Neat

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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Divine and Bovine: Alex Reads Libba Bray

YA Author Libba Bray

To clarify, I’m not trying to say there’s anything cow-like about the author in question—I had the good fortune of meeting her earlier this year, which is a little tidbit of achievement I carry around with pride (and I totally high-fived her), and quite on the contrary, she was lovely, quite a bundle of eccentricity, wit and joy. It’s always interesting looking at authors as people beside their work and seeing how much of them comes through in their words. Naturally enough, as a good portion of the heart and soul ends up in one’s writing eventually, and the works of Libba Bray are certainly lovely bundles of eccentricity, wit and joy too.

She certainly has a satirical head on her shoulders, or at least, has something strong to say in each of her stories, whether it’s through outright madcap satire or woven through as an underlayer. A favourite topic seems to be a critique and examination of American culture, and the delicious mess of consumerism and contradictions within. She dances in and out of different genres, from urban fantasy to surrealism to contemporary young adult stories gone wacky, but within each she retains a bouncy prose and interesting voice with a message to convey. Beauty Queens, for example, was the first novel of hers I read, the tale of a plane full of teen beauty pageant participants crash landing on a deserted island leading to a game of survival starring shoe catapults, political takeover plots and a representation of just about every issue in modern culture. So there you go.

Going Bovine is possibly slightly more ridiculous, following an apathetic teenaged boy diagnosed with mad cow disease on a road trip across the country to piece together clues that will save the world from supernatural doom. He’s guided by a cute, sweet-toothed angel who dyes and spray-paints her wings and the Viking god Balder trapped in the form of a garden gnome, among others. I think that tells you everything you need to know about the tone of the book. Continue reading

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The Dumbledore Problem: A Post about LGBTQ Characters

‘…recently I was in a script read through for the sixth film, and they had Dumbledore saying a line to Harry early in the script saying “I knew a girl once…” I had to write a little note in the margin and slide it along to the scriptwriter, “Dumbledore’s gay!” [laughter] If I’d known it would make you so happy, I would have announced it years ago!’

There’s a sticky situation one runs into when writing LGBTQ characters. So you want to write some non-heterosexual people into your story, whether to reach out to an abysmally underrepresented minority (which really isn’t such a minority, not that the media would have you think so) or to look cool and hip and fresh by being inclusive or to lay out fish hooks for the slash fans. The question then becomes, how does one write in gay characters while making them characters and not just gay?

I name this post after the case of Albus Dumbledore from the Harry Potter series (really, should I have to spell that out in this day and age?), as his acclaimed author simply let it drop one day that the character was in fact homosexual, expressing it as Word of God rather than having it come through in the books themselves. This inspired an ovation from some and outrage from others, and academic eye-narrowing from all sorts of angles about the nature of this decision.

Was J.K. just pulling the factoid out of her hat after the books as a cheap attempt to seem inclusive and an ally? This seems to be a question still floating around. One argument is that there was absolutely nothing in Dumbledore’s characterisation that indicates he was gay, which would have saved J.K. Rowling conveniently from any obtrusive moral guardians while the books were still being published. The counterargument is that of course there wasn’t any evidence of Dumbledore being gay, because, well, people don’t actually come with neon signs announcing their sexuality.

Dumbledore

Am I sensing a cop-out, or a legitimate representation?

Continue reading

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Friendship is Magic, So Where’s It All Gone?

'Best Friends' heart necklace

Shot through the heart…

(Also published on Feminspire doot doot look at me go)

Over the years that would fit into the Young Adult section of the bookshelf of my life, I received most of my drama from my platonic relationships. Friendships blooming, crashing, tearing themselves apart from within and being hacked to pieces by outside forces formed the basis of the emotional plot of my pre-teen and adolescent years, much more so, in any case, than the stories created by crushes and romantic entanglements. I have little doubt that this is true for a lot of people, too—which is why I find it strange that so many stories aimed at the YA market choose to completely avoid friendship as a source material.

Most books have a romantic element, this much is true—the addition of a love story intertwined with (or shoehorned into) whatever other plot that is going on adds a more human and emotional element to the story, giving the readers more opportunity to empathise with the characters at hand and add the wonder of how their relationship is going to end up to their emotional hook to the story.

Now, this is all well and good on its own, but there seems to be a recurring trend where these love stories are the only relationship-based plotlines for the main characters. Which is odd. How many people can say that their boyfriend or girlfriend is the only major relationship in their life? What about their families, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters? There’s plenty of room for growth and plot there. And most prominently, what about their friends? Continue reading

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The Juliet Complex

Claire Danes as Juliet

The girl everyone wants to be… for some silly reason

Happy Western holiday of cartoon hearts, everybody!

And what day better than Valentines to talk about the world’s obsession with love, right? Those who take the meaning assigned by floral companies to February 14th will be spending the evening either dining with a loved one or sitting at home resenting the fact that someone out there is doing the former. It would be a good night, in fact, to get a bit tipsy and whip out the faithful DVD of Romeo and Juliet (though you really don’t need a special occasion to sob over Leo DiCaprio’s precious face), crying into the cat and wondering when you will possibly find your own Romeo.

Aaaaaaand at that point I admit I lose a little bit of respect for you, because in delving into that playscript and longing for a story like it for yourself, you have completely missed the point of the entire thing. I also advise you to stop minding about Valentine’s Day so much and to like, go hang out with your friends and family or something, because quite frankly it’s a dumb occasion, but that’s another story.

Romeo and Juliet would have to be one of the most famous love stories in Western, in fact probably all, literature. If you mention those two names, even on their own, doubtless the people around you will know who they are and their association: undying, heart-breaking, world-shattering love.

They defied their family rules for each other, they fought against the misunderstanding world that sought so stubbornly to drive them apart, and died for each other as well, unable to bear living in a world apart.

Let me pause here to say that R&J is one of my favourite of Shakespeare’s plays, and the Baz Luhrman film is one of my favourite movies. It is an excellent story, it has bitter greed and revenge and snarky banter and sword fights and questions about what makes us do the things we do. But it is not a good love story. Continue reading

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