Feminist YA SFF by Melissa Eastlake

Greetings! By the time you read this, I will probably be in Canada enjoying some maple-syrup-covered delights. That’s what people eat in Canada, right? In all seriousness, I’m told the bagels use maple syrup somehow and it makes them extra delicious.

This week, we have a lovely post by Melissa on her favorite feminist speculative fiction young adult books. A mouthful, but totally worth a read. Her bio is at the end, so please check her out!


When I was a young reader, YA fantasy felt more real to me than the world I lived in. The books I loved were fun or beautiful, but they also explained power and politics in an evocative way that history class couldn’t—or wouldn’t—analyze. I’ve been a devoted YA reader and writer ever since. With a sharp, discerning audience and fast pace, YA is on the leading edge of realistic representation. Since I know Amanda’s readers are interested in feminist fantasy, I’m here to share a few of my favorite feminist stories in YA SFF.

Ash by Malinda Lo

This queer retelling of Cinderella is a contemporary classic, and one of the books that expanded my ideas about YA, fairy tales, and stories themselves could be. Love triangles in YA catch a lot of flack, but in deft hands they turn romances into stories about choice and agency. Fairy tale characters can lack agency as allegorical worlds or authorits pull them toward allegorical fates. Ash flips that convention, telling a story about a girl finding her decisiveness and voice. She chooses not only between lovers but between worlds.

“Desert Canticle” by Tessa Gratton, from The Anatomy of Curiosity

The Anatomy of Curiosity is a writing book, pairing novellas with essays and marginalia that explore different elements of craft. “Desert Canticle” is a master class in inventive, meaningful worldbuilding. Characters from two conflicting cultures working together to defuse magical bombs in a war-ravaged desert world. The magical system is just gorgeous, and the matriarchal society and character arcs explore how gender conventions are created—and create us. Writer or not, you’ll think in new ways about how worlds are built.

Island of Exiles by Erica Cameron

Island of Exiles explores gender and sexuality in its worldbuilding, as well: there are three genders, asexuality is named and accepted, and bisexuality is normalized. These conventions are woven into a unique and fascinating desert world, revealed along with complex relationships and a vivid magical system. Khya, the main character, is forced to question stories she’s always accepted, and she finds the process as eye-opening—and devastating—as many of us right here on earth do.

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

For worldbuilding that explores power and identity in a way that’s accessible to younger readers without ever talking down to them, this lower YA/middle grade novel is perfect. You’ve got beloved fantasy tropes, with a young girl learning to use her magical powers and fighting a big bad with a team of friends, as well as a deep exploration of Nigerian mythology and a cast of characters who are funny, relatable, and diverse across many intersections.

Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff

My personal favorite is contemporary fantasy that puts a magical or supernatural twist on the world we live in. Paper Valentine is set in a normal town, combining a wonderfully strange, tender ghost story with the threat of a serial killer. Without preaching, it reflects on the power structures between and around girls.


Melissa Eastlake’s debut novel, The Uncrossing, is coming in 2017 from Entangled Teen. She lives in Athens, Georgia with her partner and dog. Find her on Twitter @melissa_e.

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Author: Amanda J. McGee

Food and books are my passions. When I'm not planting a garden or working my day job, I can often be found writing genre fiction. Also I like to take hikes.

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