Not sure what to read this week? We have a suggestion: something unlike anything you’ve read before. You may be grappling with finals or watching in agony as students prepare to do what you wish you could (not have to wake up early every damn day), but one thing’s for sure—you need a book as hot as the impending summer.
Our picks for this week are as unique as you are: a look into the unapologetically political and astoundingly insightful The Handmaid’s Tale, an ambition sci-fi read that peers five years into a more recognizable future, and a groundbreaking work of lesbian fantasy. (My fantasy? More lesbian rep on the best-seller list.) Grab a copy of these books and take a look… when you glance up disoriented several hours later, you’ll thank me.
OUR HOT PICK
Explore the world of Gilead with this behind-the-scenes look at the award–winning show The Handmaid’s Tale.
The Handmaid’s Tale—the groundbreaking show produced by MGM Television and based on Margaret Atwood’s best-selling novel—has drawn rave reviews and attention worldwide. Now, this comprehensive book details the process of bringing the story to the small screen with forty-five exclusive cast and crew interviews, backstage and set photography, concept art, costume design, and more.
Delve deep into the dystopia of Gilead as interviews with the show’s cast and creators provide insight into the inspiration behind the characters, settings, and themes, as well as its parallels to the real-world political climate. Showcasing striking visuals and insightful commentary, The Art and Making of The Handmaid’s Tale is the definitive exploration of one of television’s most critically acclaimed shows.
The popular TV series The Handmaid’s Tale will return for its third season on June 5, and the timing couldn’t be more poignant. This season includes pivotal scenes shot in Washington, D.C., further emphasizing the inherently political nature of the show and its source material. Currently, The Handmaid’s Taleis trending on Twitter—of course, there’s a historical precedent. The story trended directly after Donald Trump’s inaguration, coinciding with the historic Women’s March. Currently, the story is likely trending in part because of recent decisions in Alabama and Georgia on the subject of reproductive rights. The former state’s law is particularly stringent for reasons we won’t mention here, as they may be deeply upsetting. (Imagine how upsetting they are when they result in unwanted pregnancy.) The Art and Making of the Handmaid’s Talecaptures the essence of these troubling times, featuring rich and thoughtful bonus content such as interviews with Margaret Atwood herself. Other exclusive interviews feature Elisabeth Moss (the actress who portrays Offred) and Warren Littlefield (executive producer)!
OUR COFFEE SHOP READ
Hard to say when the human species fractured exactly. Harder to say when this new talent arrived. But Lion Zorn is the first of his kind–an empathy tracker, an emotional soothsayer, with a felt sense for the future of the we. In simpler terms, he can spot cultural shifts and trends before they happen.
It’s a useful skill for a certain kind of company.
Arctic Pharmaceuticals is that kind of company. But when a routine em-tracking job leads to the discovery of a gruesome murder, Lion finds himself neck-deep in a world of eco-assassins, soul hackers and consciousness terrorists. But what the man really needs is a nap.
A unique blend of cutting-edge technology and traditional cyberpunk, Last Tango in Cyberspace explores hot topics like psychology, neuroscience, technology, as well as ecological and animal rights issues. The world created in Last Tango is based very closely on our world about five years from now, and all technology in the book either exists in labs or is rumored to exist. With its electrifying sentences, subtle humor, and an intriguing main character, readers are sure to find something that resonates with them in this groundbreaking cyberpunk science fiction thriller.
New York Times bestselling author Steven Kotler is as ambitious and impressive as his latest novel: a multiple-time Pultizer Prize nominee whose work has been translated into over forty languages, Kotler offers journalistic insight into a surprising range of timely topics. Since Last Tango in Cyberspace peers only five years into the future, it’s a striking and uncanny exploration of the world we might inhabit, playing on real fears and questions that we have as people living in 2019. The novel discusses ecological and animal rights issues alongside more traditional sci-fi topics, the more familiar neuroscience and technology. Sci-fi fans will appreciate Kotler’s expert balance of references to the genre at large and unique new additions to the genre. Lion Zorn is a charismatic and nuanced protagonist, and readers are sure to appreciate him just as much as the novel’s conceptual striving.
OUR dark horse
In the wake of her father’s death, Ash is left at the mercy of her cruel stepmother. Consumed with grief, her only joy comes by the light of the dying hearth fire, rereading the fairy tales her mother once told her. In her dreams, someday the fairies will steal her away, as they are said to do. When she meets the dark and dangerous fairy Sidhean, she believes that her wish may be granted.
The day that Ash meets Kaisa, the King’s Huntress, her heart begins to change. Instead of chasing fairies, Ash learns to hunt with Kaisa. Though their friendship is as delicate as a new bloom, it reawakens Ash’s capacity for love-and her desire to live. But Sidhean has already claimed Ash for his own, and she must make a choice between fairy tale dreams and true love.
Entrancing, empowering, and romantic, Ash is about the connection between life and love, and solitude and death, where transformation can come from even the deepest grief.
Malinda Lo‘s Ash is our Dark Horse this week for no lack of accolades: the groundbreaking LGBT+ YA was a Lambda Award finalist and a Kirkus Best Young Adult Novel. Published in 2009, the ten-year-anniversary edition of this dark, lesbian Cinderella story is actually a re-release, printed due to the novel’s success and cultural significance as an earlier LGBT+ work. The special anniversary release is jam-packed with special features, including a foreward by iconic YA fantasy author Holly Black, a letter from Malinda Lo, exclusive Q&A, and more! If you missed out on this story a decade ago (possibly because you were a small child then), now’s your chance to get in on the (literal!) magic. Even in YA fiction, which has grown increasingly open to LGBT+ characters and stories, lesbians and queer women remain underrepresented. Not in this book! Despite its basis in fairy tale, the novel received an outpouring of praise from sources like Publishers Weekly and The New York Times, praising its originality and deliberate, beautiful language.
All In-Text Images Via Amazon.
Featured Image Made With PhotoCollage.
There’s long since been an intense and ongoing debate regarding whether or not adults should read YA. While it may be true that they aren’t the target audience, they ARE the audience: approximately 55% of YA readers are actually adults. This phenomenon is particularly understandable when viewing the numbers through an LGBT+ lens: even ten years ago, queer characters were difficult to find. It’s possible that many of us are returning to coming-of-age stories that represent our own comings-of-age. Of course, many of the initial LGBT+ books on the market were tales of personal tragedy, coming-out stories gone wrong and ceaseless emotional rejections. Genre fiction gives us all the possibilities that this world—and any others—have to offer.
I hope that these ten novels might change your life the way that they’ve changed mine. As readers and storytellers, the stories we most often search for are our own.
Grasshopper Jungle is the best story you’ll ever read about a horde of horny mutant grasshoppers laying siege to rural Iowa. While it may be the only book you ever read on the topic, the book is most surprising in its deep sincerity. There’s no trace of irony or artifice; our main character records the history of the end of the world in all its minute, human details. There’s the chain-smoking, and the rooftop loitering, and the way that ordinary words like kayak or dynamo can take on larger significance in that specific language we share with the people who are closest to us. The smallest details of Ealing, IA become important because Austin thinks they are. They matter because they matter to him.
Bisexual protagonist Austin knows just about everything except for the fact that he’s bisexual—that there’s a reason he feels torn between his girlfriend, Shann, and his best friend, Robby Brees. But it feels like the end of the world… and, really, Austin isn’t so far off. Grasshopper Jungle is the unselfconscious story of understanding ourselves by understanding the things that connect us—and the significance in every one.
Strong female characters don’t have to be badasses… but, if they are, all the more fun for us. Felicity Montague is determined to become a doctor, and she’s not going to let anything get in the way—especially not a suitor from Edinburgh ready to offer his hand in marriage. When a mysterious, wealthy woman offers to pay her way to meet a German doctor who might be able to help her, Felicity is quick to accept… even if there are some terms and conditions. Cue scheming across Europe, perilous quests, and a powerful look at internalized misogyny.
This novel also places its protagonist on the aro-ace spectrum, an underrepresented demographic within the already-limited selection of LGBT+ representation. While not all aromantic people are asexual, and not all asexual people are also aromantic, Felicity is both—but these labels have very little to do with the amount of love in her life. In a world in which many YA novels are propelled forwards by forbidden love and mutual pining, Mackenzi Lee’s novel expresses a rare but strikingly true sentiment: that romantic and platonic love are not different levels, one deeper and more meaningful than the other. Instead, they’re simply different experiences—and that romance and love sometimes, but don’t have to, coincide.
(Oh, and her aromanticism / asexuality is NEVER scoffed at or shown as the cause of her isolation. The ‘A’ does not stand for “Attack & Delegitimize Others’ Experiences.”)
This is not a book about aliens. Instead, it’s a book about finding hope in what might seem to be an indifferent universe. We’ve all been stricken with deep-seated existential terror, the fear of facing an uncaring and meaningless world. We Are the Ants explores how we seek out that meaning… and how we often manage to find it.
Really, it’s NOT a book about aliens. True, the aliens did abduct Henry Denton when he was thirteen years old. And they did give him 144 days to decide whether or not to push a big, red button that determines whether or not the world is going to end. He doesn’t know how it’ll go. He doesn’t know if it will go; everyone seems to think he’s crazy, and there isn’t an abundance of evidence to the contrary. Fending off the emotional impact of his ex-boyfriend’s suicide, his mother’s underemployment, and his grandmother’s ever-impending dementia, Henry feels certain that the world isn’t important enough to save.
When he meets Diego Vega, an artist with a mysterious past, he starts to wonder if it is. We Are the Ants is an ambitious, introspective story of a hope-starved person who finds himself questioning whether or not anything matters… and, if it does, how much.
Something highly suspect always seems to be going on in sleepy small towns—usually, it’s infidelity and family secrets that tend to involve infidelity. In this case, it’s the string of mysterious deaths and the glowing blue lights that accompany them. Before that, it was the vampires; before that, it was the ghosts and the immortals. There are certain types of people that these dramatic stories happen to: “indie kids,” the sorts of teenagers who would never notice a thing as mundane as prom and are frequently named things like Satchel, Finn, or Other Finn.
While dramatic (often hyperbolic) events take place in the background, our protagonists’ lives rarely intersect with the campy, Buffy-the-Vampire hellscape that is the town’s most defining feature. Mike is far more concerned about his alcoholic father, his politician mother, and his ever-worsening OCD to consider the blue lights too much. That is, until he becomes the last one to see Indie Kid Finn alive. But even then, It’s not that he’s removed from the main storyline—his own life is the main storyline; the events that affect his family and friends are important for that very reason. This is not a story of finding meaning in the little things. It’s about realizing that those ‘little things’ ARE the most meaningful.
The LGBT+ rep is here, even if it’s not a significant part of the plot. And Ness includes a healthy and rarely-discussed degree of fluidity within a person’s sexuality: Mike experiments with his gay best friend, Jared, but ultimately feels he is straight. Relationships that we think might happen sometimes do and sometimes don’t; people are not always interested in the partners we expect.
I hesitate to say that anything has ‘saved my life,’ a phrase that feels trite, exaggerated, as if we ever need to justify our emotions that are so often the one thing we all have in common. But this is not a synonym for good—or even really f*cking good. It’s a synonym for nothing. This book saved my life.
The sequel in an astonishingly immersive series, The Dream Thieves is the first of the books to introduce queerness into the story. That’s queer as in LGBT+, not queer as strange; Stiefvater’s world abounds with strangeness that needs no introduction. It’s everywhere. The novel is ostensibly a search for a wish-granting dead Welsh king in rural Virginia, which is about as literal as it is existential. As Stiefvater herself is quick to point out, the back jacket of the book can rarely say anything along the lines of a gaggle of teens with awful coping mechanisms search for home and find dead people; sometimes, they search for dead people and find home.
In this sequel, street-racing, hard-drinking asshole (who’s secretly less of an asshole than one may think) faces off against antagonist Joseph Kavinsky, a street-racing, pill-popping asshole (who’s secretly much, much more of an asshole than anyone could guess). But this rivalry isn’t JUST about fast cars and parties where rich boys hurl Molotov cocktails—even if it’s about that, too. It’s about the danger that can befall those of us who deeply hates ourselves… and the power we gain when we learn not to.
Buy this book or borrow it, but I won’t let you touch my beloved signed copy.
Sometimes, we want a fantasy book about queer characters that has almost nothing to do with their sexualities. When LGBT+ stories first made their entrance into the YA market, most of them were tales of tragedy—because, particularly in the LGBT+ community, tragedies are bound to happen. But the lives of queer people aren’t necessarily marked by pain and ceaseless bigotry. Sometimes, they’re marked by magical gang wars, political conspiracies, and international heists. Kaz Brekker is the so-called “bastard of the Barrel,” a criminal prodigy who has one shot to get his ultimate revenge. But it’s just that… a chance. And given the misfits he’s brought on board to get the job done, the impossibility of what he’s signed up for is growing more and more apparent.
Many of us want books in which queer people are a part of the narrative but our suffering isn’t. We don’t always need the reminder that all manner of bad things, from health issues to hate crimes, are more likely to happen to people like us. Sometimes it’s great to have a fun romp when sexuality-related-angst and judgment aren’t the central focus. Now, if you want to know whether or not TRAGEDY is a part of Leigh Bardugo’s universe… it definitely is. It’s just not the kind you’ve already had too much of.
(If queer people are underrepresented in fiction, queer people of color are DEFINITELY underrepresented. Fortunately, this duology isn’t a part of that problem.)
Read all the fan-fiction you want—most of our childhood favorites will never be overtly queer, no matter what J.K. Rowling says on Twitter. It’s easy to dismiss the gay Twilight Tumblr accounts as the typical fetishization of fandom, but the enthusiasm for turning all characters gay comes from a place of sincerity: many of our childhood stories do not feature heroes like ourselves. No matter how many groundbreaking new works of YA genre fiction hit the market, there will always have been that absence in our own upbringings. No matter how many qualities we had in common with our childhood heroes (bravery! strength! intelligence!), we knew there were some ways in which they would never be like us.
Many have accused Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On, code name ‘gay Harry Potter’ of being derivative. Of course it’s derivative: it follows Chosen One Simon Snow, whose sulky roommate from an elite magical family might just be plotting to kill him. Simon doesn’t have the greatest control over his seemingly limitless magical powers, or, it seems, his life. Though he’s always been told that The Humdrum is responsible for the dark things that have befallen the magical universe, it seems there may be more to the story… and there may be more to his roommate’s obsession than hatred. But just because the work draws inspiration from Harry Potter doesn’t mean it’s exactly the same. It allows LGBT+ readers to see ourselves fully in the characters and reclaim our most beloved childhood narratives.
Looking for more LGBT+ genre fiction fun? The Disasters is a lighthearted romp around the galaxy, far more cheerful than Leigh Bardugo’s often-grim universe. That’s not to say a lot of bad things don’t happen in The Disasters: four misfits are the only witnesses to a devastating incident of intergalactic terrorism larger and more horrible than any crime before it. Only these four Academy washouts know what truly happened—but, given that they’re the prime suspects, that information will only be helpful if they’re able to survive long enough to share what they know with the world. The novel is another great example of queer characters’ whose sexualities aren’t significant parts of their storylines—while we definitely know that our disaster bisexual protagonist Nax Hall has the hots for more than one of his compatriots, that’s more of a him problem than a plot problem.
The basis for queer author M. K. England’s fictional world is African and Middle Eastern culture, meaning that The Disasters is yet another example of queer PoC characters… ones whose lives are marked by adventure rather than rampant homophobia and personal tragedy.
It’s rare for an apocalyptic YA novel to skip the romance, even if some romantic subplots take up a few dozen pages instead of a few hundred. Given that our protagonist is an aromantic, bisexual Latina, the romance here is sparse, but the action certainly isn’t. In so many apocalypse scenarios, we’re left wondering how these characters escaped with hardly any psychological trauma—at least, no psychological trauma that can’t be demonstrated through sexy brooding. Clover Martinez may be among the Last Teenagers, one of a few survivors of an alien attack that consumed all life on Earth, but surviving isn’t always her priority. Since losing her beloved grandparents, she’s dealt with intense suicidal ideation that contradicts her equally intense desire to change her grim circumstances.
(Oh, and it’s not just the protagonist; nearly every single character is LGBT+.)
If you’re ever experiencing a shortage of YA genre fiction, look no further than Cassandra Clare’s expansive Shadowhunters universe: it’ll take you months to finish every book. Clare has completed three series with another forthcoming, and spinoffs such as Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy and The Bane Chronicles fill in all the gaps in storytelling. If you find yourself needing more, there’s a film adaptation and a Freeform TV series to keep you sated.
While many of the characters in Clare’s books are straight, she was among the first authors to include LGBT+ characters among her casts of protagonists, even back in 2007 when this was a far more controversial move. She’s spoken at length about how publishers wanted her to cut gay Shadowhunter Alec from the series… and the bigotry she assumed was behind their requests. Clare has since included lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and asexual characters throughout her sprawling world. Her characters may have widely varying identities, but they’ve all got a few things in common: they’re astonishingly hot, unusually witty, and are prone to unfortunate twists of fate.
Unfortunately, I can’t read every book in the known universe. While the above books have been life-changing for me as a queer aspiring novelist, there are so many more on my TBR that could mean to you what the above books have meant to me. Here are just a few of the books I’m looking forward to reading next, a list that features a broad spectrum of LGBT+ characters of diverse identities and backgrounds.
When she wasn’t busy planning a wedding, scolding the twins, or cooking up something for dinner, Molly Weasley could be found protecting her children at the Battle of Hogwarts. Knowing Harry Potter’s situation, she never batted an eye at taking him anywhere and everywhere with her and her clan of red-heads. Whether it was Christmas vacation or a trip to the Quidditch World Cup, Molly made sure Harry knew he had a second mother in her. She went after Bellatrix Lestrange when her daughter Ginny nearly died at her hands, leaving her the most iconic quote in the whole book: “Not my daughter, you bitch.” Any mom looks great in comparison to Petunia Dursley, but I don’t think any of them can cook quite like Molly.
When Anne rolls into Green Gables for the first time with Matthew Cuthbert, Marilla is neither impressed or amused. They didn’t want an orphan girl who talked too much or day-dreamed, they wanted a boy who could help the aging Matthew in the field. By the time Anne has spent her first night, Marilla has already begun to take on motherly duties. We can argue she isn’t the best mother in literature, but she was exactly what Anne needed. In a world that so badly wanted to crush Anne’s creativity, Marilla gave her enough room to let it grow, though not always willingly. Most importantly, Marilla was Anne’s first real mother figure that she could remember. Anne spent years in and out of orphanages after her real parents died before she could walk and talk. Truthfully, anyone that can put up with so many of Anne’s mistakes and shenanigans deserves to be on this list.
When James McBride started writing his memoir, I don’t think he knew the way the world would fall in love with his mother. The book is told in two narratives: McBride tells his story about the struggles he faced growing up black with a white mom, and Ruth tells her story growing up Jewish in the South. I’m breaking the mold here and choosing a non-fictional mom, but if you’ve read this book you know just how touching Ruth is. She raised twelve children, mostly by herself. She had no family to rely on other than her husband’s and their children. If ever there was a super-mom, she was Ruth McBride.
Everyone needs a mom that will keep them over-caffeinated and bear with them through the early years of playing an instrument. Gayle Forman writes Kat as an awesome rocker mom to a cello-playing teenager. Their personalities couldn’t be more opposite, but they couldn’t have a closer relationship. It’s so clear in every page that Kat supports any and every decision Mia makes. Go to Juliard or stay in Portland with your boyfriend? Most moms would say “you’re going to college” but not Kat. Not many moms would slap noise cancelling headphones onto their baby and bring them into a rock concert, but it is this that makes Kat so special. Her unconditional love for her children mixed with her desire to treat them like small adults qualifies her for fictional mom of the year.
The Fuentes boys stole our hearts in this series, but the real star is their mother who raised all three of them by herself. Living on the Southside of Chicago is never easy. Gang wars make it so you’re never safe, and you can’t always count on the police to protect you. Mrs. Fuentes goes through so much with these boys. First she moves them to Mexico to save their lives, and she eventually moves them back once the issues die down. It’s clear through the whole series she is protective of her sons, and that sometimes comes across with a bit of a fierce attitude. There’s no doubt she would do anything to protect her boys.
What do you think of our list? Who is your favorite literary mama?
Whether or not you believe we’ve actually set foot on the moon (honestly, my preferred conspiracy theories are of the death-faking variety), it’s easy to see that our desire to reach for the stars is so fundamentally human. This insatiable curiosity for the universe is perhaps the same need that drives us to create art, to tell stories. The least explored frontiers aren’t always further and further away—they can exist within the remotest places in our own bodies and hearts, things we’ve thought and felt but have never been able to express. There’s nothing quite like reading that one searing line in your favorite new novel just to realize that someone finally understands—and that now, so do you.
Today, we celebrate Space Day. An annual holiday celebrated the first Friday of May, it exists to honor the achievements of space exploration and encourage young people to enter careers in science and engineering. (We’re guessing ‘Get Paid a Liveable Salary Day’ didn’t have quite the same ring to it.) But jokes aside, these five YA novels share the same purpose: to capture our collective wonder, which, when put to task, is a pretty powerful thing.
Grab one of these books, lie back, space out, & enjoy.
Queer characters?? And a queer author?? Everyone needs to give The Disasters some serious love. M.K. England offers readers a fun, fast-paced romp around the galaxy with an extremely entertaining (and diverse) cast of characters. England’s interplanetary colonies were extremely well-realized; clearly, England went beyond futuristic moon bases that look like the inside of an Apple store and neon Star Wars lasers. All of the colonies seem rich and grounded with culture, and when have you last read a YA where the basis for the fictional world was African / Middle Eastern culture? (That is, besides Children of Blood and Bone) An extremely endearing tale of a misfit cast of characters. Also, who doesn’t love a disaster bisexual protagonist?
Hotshot pilot Nax Hall has a history of making poor life choices. So it’s not exactly a surprise when he’s kicked out of the elite Ellis Station Academy in less than twenty-four hours.
But Nax’s one-way trip back to Earth is cut short when a terrorist group attacks the Academy. Nax and three other washouts escape—barely—but they’re also the sole witnesses to the biggest crime in the history of space colonization. And the perfect scapegoats.
On the run and framed for atrocities they didn’t commit, Nax and his fellow failures execute a dangerous heist to spread the truth about what happened at the Academy.
They may not be “Academy material,” and they may not get along, but they’re the only ones left to step up and fight.
You’d think that once you introduce the aliens, the book can’t get any weirder. Wrong. This book is unlike anything you’ve ever read, the aliens more a vehicle through which to explore complex family bonds, relationship abuse, struggles with sexuality, and the general existential bullshit of the universe. It’s rare that a book about someone who really isn’t all that interesting in living will make you want to live, but we did say this book was weird—that’s weird as a synonym for uniquely moving.
From the author of The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley comes a brand-new novel about a teenage boy who must decide whether or not the world is worth saving.
Henry Denton has spent years being periodically abducted by aliens. Then the aliens give him an ultimatum: The world will end in 144 days, and all Henry has to do to stop it is push a big red button.
Only he isn’t sure he wants to.
After all, life hasn’t been great for Henry. His mom is a struggling waitress held together by a thin layer of cigarette smoke. His brother is a jobless dropout who just knocked someone up. His grandmother is slowly losing herself to Alzheimer’s. And Henry is still dealing with the grief of his boyfriend’s suicide last year.
Wiping the slate clean sounds like a pretty good choice to him.
But Henry is a scientist first, and facing the question thoroughly and logically, he begins to look for pros and cons: in the bully who is his perpetual one-night stand, in the best friend who betrayed him, in the brilliant and mysterious boy who walked into the wrong class. Weighing the pain and the joy that surrounds him, Henry is left with the ultimate choice: push the button and save the planet and everyone on it…or let the world—and his pain—be destroyed forever.
When was the last time you read a novel with an aromantic, bisexual protagonist? Given that WordPress is telling me to correct the spelling of ‘aromantic’ (probably to aromatic or, more ironically, a romantic), I’m gonna guess NEVER. This #OwnVoices novel is a wild ride of plot twists and nonstop danger, and, as a bonus, it includes a responsible and nuanced handling of mental health issues. It’s a unique tale of friendship and sacrifice… one not weighed down by a forced romance that seems to mistakenly believe it’s more important than the world getting saved.
A high-stakes survival story about eight teenagers who outlive an alien attack—perfect for fans of The 5th Wave
Clover Martinez has always been a survivor, which is the only reason she isn’t among the dead when aliens invade and destroy Earth as she knows it.
When Clover hears an inexplicable radio message, she’s shocked to learn there are other survivors—and that they’re all at the former Area 51. When she arrives, she’s greeted by a band of misfits who call themselves The Last Teenagers on Earth.
Only they aren’t the ragtag group of heroes Clover was expecting. The group seems more interested in hiding than fighting back, and Clover starts to wonder if she was better off alone. But then she finds a hidden spaceship, and she doesn’t know what to believe…or who to trust.
Let’s dive into this powerful classic YA with one of its most iconic quotes: “we are the choices we make.” Maybe you should make the choice to head down to your local bookstore and grab this for yourself. Winner of the Guardian Award, the novel has left a lasting impact: pop-culture superstars Daisy Ridley and Tom Holland set to star in a film adaptation scheduled to hit theaters in March 2020. With its raw, unfiltered voice, it’s sure to stay on your mind for a long time to come… and on your bookshelf for even longer.
Todd Hewitt is the only boy in a town of men. Ever since the settlers were infected with the Noise germ, Todd can hear everything the men think, and they hear everything he thinks. Todd is just a month away from becoming a man, but in the midst of the cacophony, he knows that the town is hiding something from him — something so awful Todd is forced to flee with only his dog, whose simple, loyal voice he hears too. With hostile men from the town in pursuit, the two stumble upon a strange and eerily silent creature: a girl. Who is she? Why wasn’t she killed by the germ like all the females on New World? Propelled by Todd’s gritty narration, readers are in for a white-knuckle journey in which a boy on the cusp of manhood must unlearn everything he knows in order to figure out who he truly is.
You may never have wanted to read a novel about a cyborg Cinderella living in a futuristic city while getting into sci-fi shenanigans all vaguely reminiscent of childhood staple Sailor Moon… but that’s probably only because you didn’t know that novel was available. This breakout hit launched Meyer’s career, and she’s since published eleven others books that are just as unique as they are uniquely compelling. You’d think novels based loosely on fairy tales would have to be at least somewhat derivative; that’s only because you haven’t read this one.
A forbidden romance.
A deadly plague.
Earth’s fate hinges on one girl . . .
CINDER, a gifted mechanic in New Beijing, is also a cyborg. She’s reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s sudden illness. But when her life becomes entwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she finds herself at the centre of a violent struggle between the desires of an evil queen – and a dangerous temptation.
Cinder is caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal. Now she must uncover secrets about her mysterious past in order to protect Earth’s future.
This is not the fairytale you remember. But it’s one you won’t forget.
All In-Text Images Via Amazon.
Featured Image Via SteemIt.
A symptom of a larger societal problem, most analyses would suggest. The term refers to social media communities’ desire to hold organizations, individuals, and artistic works accountable for their questionable or unpopular opinions. In the Y. A. book community, it’s meant acts of what some perceive to be virtual dogpiling, assailing unpublished novels with one star reviews and bad publicity in order to deprive the target of profit or platform. (When you type ‘dogpiling’ into Google, the next suggested word is Twitter.) In the past two years, several prominent debuts have been the subject of social media attacks; as a result, some authors have chosen not to publish these books. They are, as the term suggests, canceled. For our purposes, let’s not attempt to determine which among the allegations of cultural insensitivity are true; instead, let’s document these incidents and consider them individually.
Because here’s what cancel culture isn’t: an accusatory classification into which all criticism might be stuffed.
Kosoko Jackson was a sensitivity reader for the Big Five publishing houses. A queer, black author, Jackson was poised to make a successful debut with his novel A Place for Wolves, proudly labeled #ownvoices, a term used to describe novels whose protagonists share the same marginalized identities as their authors. The novel followed the LGBT+ love story of two American teenagers set during the Kosovo War, an Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universemeets Code Name Verity. With favorable reviews from Publishers Weekly, Jackson seemed on the precipice of literary heights.
Then, A Place for Wolves was canceled—and the Internet was gleeful.
“I have to be absolutely fucking honest here,” opens the infamous Goodreads review, the first proverbial thrown stone. “I’ve never been so disgusted in my life.”
Criticism largely centered upon allegations of mishandling the Kosovo War: particularly, making the protagonists American and the gruesome human tragedy the backdrop for a love story. The novel’s most grievous sin, according to its detractors, was making the villain an Albanian Muslim—notably, the demographic most impacted by the ethnic cleansing. And this injustice was compounded by just how recently the violence ended: on the brink of our current century, in 1999, recently enough that some born in that same year are still teenagers.
Among the first responders was an incendiary article titled: “He Was Part of a Twitter Mob That Attacked Young Adult Novelists. Then It Turned on Him. Now His Book Is Canceled.” The title clearly alludes to a just-desserts mentality, a social-justice ouroboros circling back to devour its own head. Jackson is not the victim here, it assures. He is someone whose luck has run out.
Refinery29echoes this sentiment, opening its coverage of the matter with Jackson’s haunting Tweet, a knock-knock joke with the who’s there? a clumsy I-told-you-so:
Stories about the civil rights movement should be written by black people.
Stories of suffrage should be written by women.
Ergo, stories about boys during horrific and life changing times, like the AIDS EPIDEMIC, should be written by gay men.
In fact, Kosoko Jackson himself was not ‘canceled;’ after a lengthy and public apology, his reputation seems largely untarnished. Not only was he not required to pay back his advance, but his new debut, Yesterday Is History, is scheduled for 2020 release. The novel will follow a contemporary gay teen who, through a time-travel mishap, finds himself in NYC on the eve of the Stonewall Riots.
There are many ways to interpret the Internet’s reaction to Jackson’s possible blunder, many of them equally valid. Some see detractors attempting to silence a black debut author, a voice of color in the midst of a white-majority industry. Some see criticism against Jackson’s work as a valid response born of nuanced understanding of the Kosovo War, perhaps from someone with more historical insight than Jackson himself. But most seem to suggest that all sensitivity concerns—regardless of the specific issues—possess all the nuance of a gleefully hurled tomato.
The Continent by Keira Drake
“If you want an idea of what this book is like,” one Goodreads reviewer explained, “it’s like Disney’s Pocahontas intermixed with even more blatant racism and obvious xenophobia.”
Keira Drake’s book wasn’t ‘canceled,’ but the seething monolith known as the Internet still feels she should have been. Could the Internet be right?
Image Via Salt Lake Tribune
Drake, a white debut author, was moved to tears when she heard an NPR report of a bombing in Iraq; according to Vulture, she felt compelled to write a book about what might happen if a person like her (“white, sheltered, and privileged”) suddenly wound up “in the middle of a war between two violent societies in a foreign land.”
In fact, Keira Drake is from a violent society: in the U.S., rates of lethal violence are much higher than in similarly wealthy countries. But these violent societies are different, as Drake explains herself. Remember? They’re foreign.
The article continues from Drake’s inspiration to what exactly her inspiration produced:
Drake set her fantasy in a place called the Continent, a brutal realm where privileged tourists, safe in their heli-planes, gaze down with detached curiosity at the native people slaughtering each other below. After a heli-plane crashes, Drake’s narrator is saved by one of the natives from an attempted rape at the hands of an enemy tribe, and she, in turn, saves his people from ruin.
Criticisms of racial insensitivity in The Continentwere swift and damning: comparisons abounded between the fictional ‘Topi’ tribe (who adorn their faces with war paint and attack primarily with bows and arrows) and the Hopi tribe of Native Americans. A petition emerged to halt the book’s publication after one reader expressed concern over the stereotypes they felt were rampant in the novel, a nonstop action ride of “Magic Black people, Ninja Asians, and uneducated, ruthless Natives who get drunk and try to rape the precious white girl.”
Image Via Ya Interrobang
If that sounds like a straightforward condemnation, it isn’t. As in the case of Kosoko Jackson, many reviewers had not read the book—a fact which undeniably diminishes their credibility. And even the shapeless mass of YA social media gremlins (I jest, given that perception of this community is often unnecessarily negative) couldn’t agree on whether or not the changes were necessary—or even good.
“The original had more balls,” one Instagram user wrote. “It was grittier and the criticism of colonialism and racism more impactful.” Of course, one review from someone who may have genuinely read the books is not evidence that Drake’s original work was thoughtful and self-aware… but it does mean something.
When people cite ‘cancel culture,’ they envision relentless Twitter mobs echoing and exacerbating criticism they’ve heard, a botched game of Telephone that no one ever seems to win. In reality, the quality of reviews irrefutably varies from those who haven’t read the book yet have boarded the hype train to fellow YA authors of color or Native American readers with doctorates in Library Science pulling descriptions of “savages” with “almond-shaped eyes” directly from the novel they dissect. It’s ideologically risky to perceive online criticism as inherently less real, to assume that anything taking place over social media platforms is inherently less thoughtful. We’ve seen social media put to the task of propagating serious political movements, as is the case with the groundbreaking #MeToo movement. We’re well-aware of our place in the digital era; this is a part of what that means.
The novel follows Elloren, a girl growing up in a society in which fantasy races (wolfmen, fae, etc.) are deemed inferior. Of course, this is a low-hanging metaphor for real-world racism, but it’s certainly not unprecedented: Cassandra Clare‘s Shadowhunters universe relies heavily on the concept of ‘Downworlders’ (werewolves, fae, etc.) and their second-class status in the Nephilim-dominated Clave, whose laws generally fail to take the magical races into account. The Harry Potter franchise also comments upon inequality and racial issues through the concept of ‘purer’ wizarding bloodlines. While J.K. Rowling‘s efforts at including diversity in her texts may not easily lend themselves to the word ‘effort’ (think Dumbledore and Grindelwald’s ‘intense sexual relationship‘ that’s never shown in the prequel films), she lightly prods at real-world issues with the inclusion of plot points such as Hermione’s social activism on behalf of the house elves. Rowling’s work has had such an impact that young people looking to involve themselves in politics frequently allude to her work in protest signs and political arguments (think ‘no one deserves to live in a closet’).
Image vIA jOSH jOSH tWITTER
One Goodreads user parsed the “most dangerous, offensive book” they had ever read apart in a 9,000-word review, barbing readers with quotes along the lines of: “The Kelts are not a pure race like us. They’re more accepting of intermarriage, and because of this, they’re hopelessly mixed.” Given the novel’s premise, it seems likely that this quote came from one of the aforementioned fusty, traditional relatives whose views are the launchpad for Elloren’s character arc. In fact, the main premise of the review was, according to Vulture, “racist characters saying or doing racist things.” There seems to be confusion over whether or not including characters with bigoted views means endorsing those characters’ bigoted views—a dangerous conflation.
Forest herself has said that she wanted to avoid “[injecting] harmful tropes into fantasy,” for example, casting people with dark skin (including fantasy races) as villains. Intentionally, Forest said, “all [her] villains are white.”
Reviewers agree that Elloren’s bigotry is “jarring,” the novel rampant with homophobic, ableist, racist, and otherwise bigoted remarks. But many remain divided on whether or not the comments fulfil their intended purpose—a clearly-stated opposition to bigotry told through the perspective of a protagonist whose hateful outlook is implied to unravel by the end of the yet-unpublished third book.
Others (in particular, acclaimed author L.L. McKinney) say that the bigotry itself isn’t exactly the issue: Forest is a white author and therefore doesn’t have the range to dismantle racial oppression—it isn’t her story to tell. Regardless of whether or not you, reader, agree with this sentiment, McKinney is more than justified in expressing it.
Because here’s the issue with calling this ‘cancel culture:’ The Black Witch wasn’t canceled.
Image Via Jeff Bullas
There was, inarguably, an online crusade against it. The debut novel’s Goodreads rating dropped to an astonishing 1.7. Tumblr posts with as many as 6,000 notes circulated condemning the book, despite the fact that, before its publication, there was almost no chance that such a large group had actually read it. Yet the novel was published as planned in May 2017 despite the controversy, and its sequel was released in September 2018. The criticism drew attention, but, as in the case of Kosoko Jackson, it did not derail the author’s career.
It’s difficult to make a call on this one, particularly given that many of the Twitter and Tumblr threads (including the 9k word review) have since been deleted. It’s irresponsible for us, as critics and as readers, to side with the journalists who condemn “Toxic YA Twitter” without having read the book and the reviews, and the Twitter threads. It’s irresponsible for us to assert that all criticism of possible insensitivity is inaccurate because it is spread through social media—and it’s more irresponsible still to assume that all sensitivity criticisms carry the same weight.
But making a ‘call on this one’ is besides the point. My opinion on which of these books is more appropriate than the others couldn’t be more irrelevant These claims deserve consideration. They deserve it because some of them are true, regardless of whether this particular one is or isn’t. Citing all criticisms as a part of ‘cancel culture’ may be the same sort of blunt dismissal that ‘cancel culture’ itself entails.
Blood Heir By Amélie Wen zhao
And now, we arrive at our final destination.
Amélie Wen Zhao, a French-born and Beijing-raised debut author, faced accusations of racism shortly before the scheduled publication of her upcoming novel Blood Heir, the first instalment of a trilogy with a high three-figure advance. After a 2014 international trip, Zhao began to conceptualize a society in which magical individuals are trafficked as laborers, an incisive allusion to “human trafficking” and “indentured servitude in Asia.” Wen Zhao stated that she had not previously encountered a commentary on human trafficking in Y.A. literature. But not all readers understood Wen Zhao’s intentions.
Image Via Slate
“This book is about slavery,” accused one Goodreads reviewer, “a false oppression narratives that equates having legitimately dangerous magical powers that kill people with being an oppressed minority.”
Wen Zhao, expressing that she never intended the book as an allusion to slavery in the United States, canceled the publication.
Wen Zhao recently made headlines for announcing her plan to go forth with publishing after a thoughtful apology, months after her cancelation announcement. This is not unprecedented; although accusations of Drake’s cultural insensitivity were perhaps the most legitimate, she went forth with publication after official delays due to the controversy. After some deliberation and a lot of changes, Wen Zhao is resuming the publication. Delacorte, her publisher, had a group of multicultural academics evaluate the work—including an expert who “studies human trafficking in Asia.”
Of course, those in favor of the project’s cancelation were quick to point out that all races and ethnicities (read: not just non-poc) are capable of anti-blackness. In a now-deleted tweet, novelist Ellen Oh applauded Wen Zhao for the cancelation and drew attention to the issue. Poet L. L. McKinney also commented upon anti-blackness, and author Stephi Cham commented, “I don’t think she’s bowing to a mob. I think she’s listened to valid feedback and made a decision to do better based on that.” Regardless of the specific intent of Wen Zhao’s novel, the reality is that some people drew different conclusions. And yet, her career is not derailed. Her debut will be available in November and will have gone through an even more extensive vetting process, likely adding more nuance and commentary regarding the serious issue of human trafficking.
Image Via Slate
Image Via Next Shark
‘Cancel culture’ paranoia comes from fear of censorship. What does that fear mean if the author’s career doesn’t end? If the book isn’t canceled?
Each incident has been cited as an example of toxic Twitter culture blown out of hand, allegations of hypersensitivity and all the political firestorm a controversial hot topic. In reality, it’s impossible for any one journalist to deem which criticisms are ‘correct’ and which are irrational. And it’s more than just impossible for critics to automatically associate all of these incidents, to classify each as an act of small-minded censorship. If we categorize all critique under the broad label of ‘cancel culture,’ delegitimize it as hyperbolic outrage, we risk discouraging and outright disregarding serious criticism.