Sci-Fi YA and the Changing Tide

Sci-Fi YA and the Changing Tide

Written by Grant Goodman, 10/28/2014

For the entirety of my teens, science-fiction was a term you simply didn’t say. It was social suicide. You were better off saying you were into picture books than sci-fi novels. Those were tough times.

For the record, I said it anyway. I found my tribe eventually and we had plenty of great times discussing ENDER’S GAME and DUNE.

But now, due to the rising trends of YA fiction, sci-fi is getting a new spin. As more teens dive into sci-fi novels like DIVERGENT or Marissa Meyer’s LUNAR CHRONICLES series, they grow up with a strong love of sci-fi.

What’s the appeal, then?

I’ve asked my students and the answers they provide tend to be along these lines:

1) They don’t know what their own futures are going to be like, so they like reading about other futures.

2) They love new technology. (Fairly obvious, right?)

3) They are beginning to understand politics and the fact that these dystopian settings are based on the idea of government gone wrong.

Science-fiction provides them with a strong “what if?” that is sometimes only one step away from the world they inhabit. Sometimes it casts them into deep space, sometimes they get to step sideways into an alternate version of Earth.

No matter what, it makes me incredibly happy to see so many sci-fi titles making it in the mainstream. I’ve always felt that science-fiction shows us that no matter how far we travel (distance or time), we can never escape human nature.

These tales force us to look at who we are and how we treat each other—and the more people who are reading them, the better.

Becoming a YA Reader: Where to Start?

Becoming a YA Reader: Where to Start?

Written by Grant Goodman, 10/21/2014

Let’s face it: the YA fiction market is huge. The shelves are crowded, they’re divided into thirty different sections, and all of them have covers screaming for attention. If you’re new to the world, you might be looking for direction: what should I start with? What’s a sure-fire winner?

I’m here to help you with some recommendations.

If you want straight-up, real-world fiction:

WONDER by RJ Palacio

This is the story of August, a boy who has undergone a ton of facial surgeries in order to stay alive. He’s always been sensitive about his looks and now his parents are telling him it’s time to go to public school. The novel is about finding friendship and fitting in, a struggle that is magnified when your looks don’t match with everyone else’s. A fantastic testament to kindness, humor, and dealing with bad days.

If you’re looking for sci-fi with a male lead:

SHIP BREAKER by Paolo Bacigalupi

Nailer crawls through the abandoned ships that were stranded once the last of the oil was gone. He has nothing: no money, no mother, no security. His father is a reckless drunk and his friends are likely to betray him for a few bucks. When a clean-energy ship gets caught in a storm, Nailer is the first to reach it. He’s stunned by the riches he finds aboard. And when he goes to pull a diamond nose stud from a dead girl on board, he never expects her to wake up.

If you want something that is just plain wonderful:

THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN by Katherine Applegate

Ivan is a gorilla in a mall’s zoo. He has been taken out of the wild and put on display. What few understand, though, is that Ivan is an artist and a poet at heart. Read it and it will make your life better.

Feminism in YA: Tris Prior (DIVERGENT Only)

Feminism in YA: Tris Prior

Written by Grant Goodman, 10/17/2014

NOTE: Full of spoilers for DIVERGENT

Beatrice Prior’s story follows the traditional tropes of teenage rebellion: when given the chance to pick a lifestyle, she completely rebels from her family’s traditions of being bland and selfless (Abnegation). Her pick is Dauntless which emphasizes combat-readiness and mental fortitude. With this change of identity, she also changes her name to Tris and—of course—gets tattooed.

What does it mean to be a strong woman in Tris’ world? If you’re a member of Dauntless, you jump out of moving vehicles, you leap off of rooftops, you let a hot guy throw knives at you, and you engage in full contact hand-to-hand combat. In Tris’ case, finding access to this strength means casting aside her family and her old lifestyle.

In fact, as she continues to grow, she loses more and more. Tris chooses her own path and in doing so she is sexually assaulted, shoots one of her friends (the circumstances are extenuating) and gets both of her parents killed. That’s a heavy message there.

Yes, she does find a way to express who she is. She has a smoldering relationship with Four and she finds a small core of people who want to be around her. Yes, she makes decisions on her own and literally confronts her own fears. The cost, though, is exorbitant.

Tris is a fascinating character, without a doubt. I’m honestly torn on how to reach a conclusion on whether or not she’s a strong role model for girls. Her intentions and her thirst for independence are admirable. The message about what you need to go through in order to succeed, though, is terrifying at times.

I’d love to know your thoughts. Let’s discuss this further in the comments section.

Margin Notes: A WIZARD OF EARTHSEA by Ursula K. Le Guin

Margin Notes: A WIZARD OF EARTHSEA by Ursula K. Le Guin

Written by Grant Goodman, 10/13/2014


The Quote: “To light a candle is to cast a shadow…”

The Notes:  A WIZARD OF EARTHSEA is one of the earliest novels about a boy attending wizard school. It is full of adventure, powerful magic, and messages about the dangers of absolute power.

The quote here is one of the many moments of simple wisdom that is passed on to Ged during his education. In his world, magic is about knowing the true names of things. It is also about balance. To create is to destroy, so every decision must be weighed before a spell is cast. It mirrors one of the major facts of life that we have to recognize as we’re growing up: every action we take has a thousand consequences down the line.

You’re far more likely to come across this book in the Fantasy section of your bookstore, rather than the Teens section. The designation doesn’t matter, really. This is a slim novel that speaks to everyone.

If you’ve spent time at Hogwarts, but never on the island of Roke, you should do some exploring. You’ll find something wonderful waiting for you.

Veronica Roth Writes to Music (and Maybe You Should, Too)

Veronica Roth to Writes to Music (and Maybe You Should, Too)

Written by Grant Goodman, 10/11/2014

It has been a little while since Veronica Roth wrote about the music she listens to while she writes. (Check here, here, and here.) Even so, it’s a window into the craft of writing from one of the most influential writers in the YA scene.

Writing is all about channeling emotions and music is perhaps the most pure, direct artistic translation of emotion. One of my all-time favorite passages from Pat Rothfuss’ novels is as follows: Music touches [people’s] hearts directly no matter how small or stubborn the mind of the man who listens.” And he nailed it, because if you can find a song that somehow embodies the overall flow of the scene you’re writing, it will lock you in and keep you focused.

So let’s talk about Veronica Roth’s picks, shall we?

She mentions Mumford and Sons’ “Timshel,” a song that is not only hushed and beautiful, but also connected to John Steinbeck’s novel, EAST OF EDEN. That’s a double-literary bonus right there, for super-effective double damage.

She also gives a nod to Mumford’s “White Blank Page,” which swells and churns and honestly ranks among the best build-up songs ever written (according to me, that is.)

The band Now, Now was a part of her writing INSURGENT. I love their album, Threads, and I’ve seen them twice. Their concert performances have been nothing short of fantastic. Roth leans toward “Giants.” If I had to pick a writing song from them, I’d go with “But I Do.”

It’s fun to listen to the songs she listed and then try to pair them with the scenes from her novels.

Do you write while listening to music? Chime in with your top songs in the comments section. We’ll trade picks.

Seal of Approval: THE 5th WAVE by Rick Yancey

Seal of Approval: THE 5TH WAVE by Rick Yancey

Written by Grant Goodman, 10/6/2014

Oh man. This book.

This book is AWESOME.

THE 5th WAVE has everything going for it: it’s a post-alien-apocalypse novel. It has guns. It has romance. It has valiance. It has strength. You should get a copy as soon as you can.

Everything begins with Cassie. She is alone and frazzled and living on the run. There’s no one left for her to trust, unless you count her gun as a person. Which, all things considered, isn’t such a crazy thought. That gun is a lot of things for her: the means for hunting, a reminder of her family, the equivalent of a security blanket.

Cassie is one of the last humans. She survived the first wave of the alien offensive and the ones that followed, watching as humanity dwindled and their extra-terrestrial observers remained untouchable in the skies. She carries her past like a boulder and the future isn’t looking all that rosy.

Yancey’s novel is a corner-to-corner winner, never ceasing to intrigue and always full of new surprises. You’ll find nail-biting moments buffered by incredibly tender scenes. Because when your world is falling apart, every moment is a big one, and you take solace when you can find it.

BONUS POST: Book Trailer for Neil Gaiman’s FORTUNATELY, THE MILK

Neil Gaiman is one of those people. You know what I mean. He’s brilliant. He writes astounding short AND long fiction. He’s British. In other words, I’m insanely jealous of him.

Behold: a trailer for FORTUNATELY, THE MILK, which was released some time ago, but is now available in paperback.

The Importance of a Sense of Wonder

The Importance of a Sense of Wonder

Written by Grant Goodman, 10/5/2014

“Stuff your eyes with wonder”

-Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

Look, I’m not against mainstream fiction. I read a lot of it. My stack of books that I’ve read includes plenty that focus on people in New York, trying to deal with the daily pressures of life. They’re great reads. But they don’t spark up a sense of wonder. Most of the time, they hit me with character loss and disappointment, followed by a brief flash of triumph. That’s the connection.

The YA lit I tend to read still has those emotional moments. In addition, though, it feeds my imagination in a way that fills with me awe.

For comparison: mainstream fiction is like a real-life candy factory, full of loud, metallic machines and conveyor belts. YA genre fiction, however, is Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, stuffed to the brim with wild ideas and impossibilities.

I need places like Hogwarts, with its nearly-headless ghosts and its moving staircases. I need inventions like the anti-gravity tech in Steelheart. I need to know that Tally has access to toothbrush pills in Uglies. I want to see Edward Elrich use his alchemy.

Those are the ideas that exist outside the ordinary. They’re a reminder that we can color outside the lines. They push the boundaries of what we accept and they make us think about whether or not we can make those little pieces of fiction into reality. To me, they’re as necessary as oxygen and music. Without them, everything is gray around the edges.

So what are the YA creations and inventions that you’ve come to love? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section.