(originally published at bookish.com)October 20, 2014In my recent YA poetry collection Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty, I draw connections between modern teenaged girls’ lives and fairy tales, and I’m not talking about the happily-ever-after parts. I’m talking about when a girl wants to venture out into the world but keeps getting shoved back into the ashes. Or when she’s offered a version of reality that looks delicious, only to discover later that it has a deadly bite.
Fairy tales pop up everywhere these days—in books and movies and TV shows. Sometimes I find them in places where I didn’t notice them at first. The other day I was thinking about some of my favorite contemporary young adult novels. At a glance they appear to be entirely (or almost entirely) of the “real” world, but upon closer examination…
Pointe by Brandy Colbert
Like the story of Red Riding Hood, this raw and honest novel has a wolf who lures his prey with charm. It also has Theo, an aspiring ballerina and one of the most complex, engaging narrators I’ve encountered in a long time. Readers know her former “boyfriend” is a predator well before she does, and I, for one, felt a deep sense of relief and triumph when she finally stopped blaming herself for getting involved with him and realized it, too.
Ask the Passengers by A.S. King
Think of A.S. King’s main character Astrid as a reverse Rapunzel, sending an essential part of herself up into the sky instead of down to the ground. Astrid feels most free when she’s lying on a picnic table beaming love at strangers in passing airplanes. Otherwise her feelings are locked away, her romance with a girl at work a secret she’s afraid to reveal. I love the premise of this novel so much I want to marry it, perhaps in a German castle, accessible via crystal boats pulled by swans.
Criss Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins
I adore all of Lynne Rae Perkins’s books, but this book—a Newbery Medal-winner—especially, in part because it has a lovely meandering quality, as if the cast of adolescent characters is caught inside a long, luxurious Sleeping-Beauty-style slumber from which they will one day wake up, but what’s the rush? They might as well take their time enjoying each others’ company and dreaming their way toward adulthood.
Dirty Wings by Sarah McCarry
Okay, it’s kind of cheating to include magical realism here, especially magical realism billed as a retelling of the Persephone myth, but let me explain! More than anything, the “realism” in this exquisitely told tale of opposites—a sheltered piano prodigy and a street-wise runaway—reminds me of Grimm’s Snow-White and Rose-Red. Maia and Cass are like sisters. They complement each other. Hand in hand, on a road trip down the Pacific Coast, they enter the dark, dazzling forest of life together.
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Much has already been written about this modern-day classic of YA literature, but lately I’ve been reconsidering it in terms of H.C. Anderson’s—NOT Disney’s—The Little Mermaid. Both main characters lose their voices, but Melinda, a victim of sexual assault, reclaims hers in the end, while the little mermaid, silenced forever, sadly comes to understand that her voice was too big a price to pay. In a way, for both young women, the message is the same: speak. Speak out. Speak up for yourselves. You are too important to fade away.
#WeNeedDiverseBooks YA Flow Chart!
Like thrillers? Contemporary? Romance? Graphic Novels? Humor? We’ve got recommendations for you!
For anyone who may be unable to read the graphic or just wants easy links of the books, here’s a transcription.
Looking for a diverse YA book? Just follow the arrows to what you love for a perfect read!
The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang & Sonny Liew
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty by G. Neri and Randy DuBurke
The Undertaking of Lily Chen by Danica Novgorodoff
Trickster: Native American Tales by Matt Dembicki
Dystopian & Science Fiction?
Proxy by Alex London
Control by Lydia Kang
The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson
Killer of Enemies by Joseph Bruchac
Diverse Energies edited by Tobias S. Buckell and Joe Monti
Tasting the Sky: A Palestinian Childhood by Ibtisam Barakat
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saénz
Thank you Corinne!!