I Just Came Back From a Lit Conference and I'm Bringing You More Dark, Dystopian YA Novels

Since I love you all, I thought I would share some of the books I’ll be reading in the coming months.
Publish date:
October 23, 2012
books, reading, young adult, read this!

So, I just got back from this absolutely amazing conference called Sirens, which is for and about women in fantasy literature. This year's theme was Tales Retold, looking at reworkings of fairytales, myths, folklore and more.

It was two totally packed days of fascinating panels, workshops, and roundtable discussions, complete with after-hours conversations deep into the night in the lobby of the lodge we were staying at for the conference. I had a chance to meet some of my favorite YA authors (Sarah Rees Brennan! Cindy Pon! Malinda Lo!) along with Nalo Hopkinson, one of the guests of honor and a definite addition to my TBR list. I also got to have some really fascinating discussions about the representation of minorities in fiction, particularly in YA, and I ended up leaving with quite the reading list of both adult and YA fiction.

Since I love you all, I thought I would share some of the books I’ll be reading in the coming months. These are all taken from the staff reading list for Sirens 2013. The conference theme is “Reunions,” looking back over themes from prior years as well as the role of reunions in fantasy.

Summer of the Mariposas,” Guadalupe Garcia McCall

McCall is one of the guests of honor at next year’s conference, so her book is a definite must-read. I'm pretty much sold at “Mexican-American retelling of the Odyssey,” because I love Greek mythology and I’m fascinated by works that take Western mythology and culture out of its “traditional” setting and play with it. In this fantastical retelling, five sisters find the body of a drowned man and decide to return him to his family in Mexico, and along the way, they encounter a series of trials and tribulations that strengthen the bonds of sisterhood and make for a complex and fascinating tale.

Devil’s Kiss,” Sarwat Chadda

This book was originally selected for the year in which the theme was Warriors, and it’s about a teenage girl who’s the only female member of the Knights Templar. Faced with catastrophe, she has to rise to the occasion to save the city of London; you know, your usual girl-needs-to-avert-the-apocalypse story, but there’s a twist. Unlike the vast majority of YA protagonists, she’s biracial, and the book explores the tensions in her cultural and religious background as well as exploring her struggle with adolescence and finding love.

Magic Under Glass,” Jaclyn Dolamore

From the Fairy year, “Magic Under Glass” is the story of Nimira, an immigrant struggling to make her way in a fantasy version of Europe. Numerous readers have remarked on the fact that the book explores the racial and cultural issues faced by immigrants; Nimira is proud of who she is and her heritage and resists attempts to make her lesser-than and subservient because of her skin color. At the same time, “Magic Under Glass” is not an issue book, it’s fantasy, and it’s focused on the magical world and the complexities she encounters there.

This book actually sparked a great deal of controversy on first release because the cover was whitewashed, featuring a white girl instead of a dark-skinned one, despite the fact that Nimira is very obviously and explicitly coded as non-white in the text. The outcry was so sustained that the publisher actually changed the cover to be a more accurate reflection of the character and the text, highlighting the fact that sometimes, raising a stink gets results.

Who Fears Death,” Nnedi Okorafor

This entry on the booklist is from the year the conference revolved around monsters, and it promises to be an intense read. It’s set in a post-apocalyptic version of Africa where rape, genocide and torture are constant, and looming, themes. The heroine, Onyesonwu, is a shapeshifter, an element that becomes key to the story. This is a dark, complex, and brutal book that faces violence head-on and depicts a terrifying world of extreme gender inequality. It is not your garden-variety dystopian novel, let’s put it that way.

Ash,” Malinda Lo

I am cheating a bit here as I’ve actually already read “Ash,” which was written by one of this year’s guests of honor. It fits into the Tales Retold theme, being a lesbian retelling of Cinderella, and it’s delicious. Lo’s prose is so rich and delightful, and the story is so elegantly woven, that reading this book is like rolling around in a big Turkish bath towel after a nice hot bath. OK, maybe not for you, but for me. One interesting tidbit about “Ash” that I learned at the conference: Malinda mentioned that some readers are shocked and surprised by the “twist” that Ash is lesbian, despite the, um, obvious hints dropped throughout the book.

Bonus book:

Also a Sirens recommendation, “Half World” by Hiromi Goto and Jillian Tamaki is something I’ve already read, and cannot recommend enough. It’s very creepy and dark and delicious and fascinating. There’s a fantastical journey, coming of age, oh, and beautiful/creepy illustrations that suck you deep into the plot. This is a dark fantasy, but it’s anchored in a very real world with a heroine who’s fat and at a cognitive disadvantage compared to her peers. Taunted as a “retard” and struggling at home with an emotionally distant mother, she’s drawn into a truly dark web when her mother goes missing and she sets out to find her.

What's on your to-read list? Will I be seeing you at Sirens next year?