Wednesday, November 28, 2012

YA Reading, Round 7: Fantasy

Normally, the fantasy genre is not really my thing. I like books grounded in reality. I like characters and situations I can relate to. But you know what? These picks surprised me. I didn't totally love them all, but I enjoyed them. And I found myself more engrossed in the stories than I would've imagined.

That's sorta the fun thing about this class—I'm forced to read things I would never pick up on my own. And that's usually my reading goal anyway! Maybe I haven't been doing that as well as I had thought...

I had recently added Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol to my own to-read list after I saw a write-up on it somewhere. I do really enjoy the graphic format, so I was pleased to be forced to get to it sooner rather than later. Anya is Russian but you'd hardly know that upon meeting her; she's purposefully lost the accent and turned herself into a typical American teenager. In fact, the first thing you notice about her is how moody and perpetually annoyed she seems—so typical. One day, in a huff, Anya falls down a well and discovers a ghost who's been trapped down there for almost 100 years. Once Anya makes it back above ground, she discovers the ghost has followed, and it actually turns out to be great to have a ghost as a best friend. She can help you cheat on tests and learn important info about the guy you're crushing on. But then Anya makes a discovery that her ghost may not be as good-intentioned as she thought.

Ultimately, Anya's Ghost is a simple story about a girl who feels like an outsider, who feels like she can't fully fit into the new world she's in, and who feels such pressure to change herself entirely to do so. The artwork is very easy to follow for a beginning graphic reader, and this story has a lot of different appeal factors—it's part paranormal, part mysterious, part multicultural, part coming-of-age. It's got a lot to offer.

I chose to read Libba Bray's A Great and Terrible Beauty because of its premise...and I liked it even though I soon realized that I had actually mis-read the premise a bit. I thought it involved time travel, and I thought, "Awesome! Time traveling from a whole other era!" is not about time travel. Just gonna throw that out there now.

The story is set in Victorian England, prior to the turn of the 20th-century. Gemma Doyle has grown up in colonial India and desperately wants to return to England. The tragic yet mysterious death of her mother gets Gemma her wish as she heads back to England for boarding school, the very same one her mother attended. Gemma doesn't make the trip alone, though; there's a mysterious stranger following her, one she recognizes from the confusing day in the market that lead to her mother's death. She's also started having visions that hint there is much more to the story than she thought—much more meaning magical realms and unthinkable evil, all of which can be released into Gemma's world, good and bad.

Gemma is an interesting character, because she doesn't feel like she belongs in any of the worlds she is in. The friendships she forms with classmates are wonderfully and realistically complex—self-serving and petty, yet demanding and utterly dependent. It's not too "high-fantasy" and therefore wouldn't be a turn-off to non-fantasy fans. It's also the first in a trilogy...which I will proceed to read as soon as this semester is over! I think it was the historical mystery aspect that got me.

Perhaps the most well-known from this set is Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone, also the first in a planned trilogy. My professor loves this book and hasn't stopped talking about it all semester, even prior to us reading it. This, though, was actually my least favorite of these three. The setting is simple enough—Karou lives in Prague and seems like an average teen in a normal first. But Karou has a lot of secrets about her that she doesn't even have the answer to, most importantly—where is she from? She was raised by a demon and always a part of a fantastical world that has never seemed anything but normal. She runs errands for him, traveling all over the world in an instant, but she's never understood exactly why. And then she meets a stranger in a dark alley in Marrakesh, the beautiful Akiva who is just as mysterious as she is, and Karou figures there is a lot she needs to learn.

The reality Taylor painted for this story has a lot more complexity in terms of fantasy than any story I've read before. For some teens, it may be hard to completely grasp, especially if they're not usually fantasy readers, but once you grasp the norms of Karou's world, it's easier to follow. And it's satisfying to read how little pieces of the puzzle are slowly revealed as you learn more about Karou's world. Most people walk away from this book considering it a Romeo & Juliet type love story, but I think it's a lot more than that. It also has the universal themes like identity, love, and loyalty that are easier topics to understand and relate to. Teens (and adults) seem to loooooove this book, but it was just ok to me—didn't love it, but didn't dislike it either. I don't feel much drive to continue on in the series, but if a teen does, they'll be happy the story's not over yet!

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