Book Review: Kaleidoscope by Alisa Krasnostein & Julia Rios (eds.)

I don’t usually review books here on the FableCroft site, but like to periodically do so when it’s a book by one of the authors we have published in the past or is something so brilliant from another small press that it deserves to be shouted from the rooftops! Like this one:

kaleidoscopeKaleidoscope: Diverse YA Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories

ISBN: 978-1-922101-11-2

August 2014, Twelfth Planet Press

Alisa Krasnostein & Julia Rios (eds.)

Kaleidoscope is one of the best anthologies I have read for a very long time. It’s not just the concept, which is both necessary and overdue; it’s not just the stories, which are engaging and beautiful and thoughtful and brilliant; it’s not just the way the authors explore science fiction and fantasy from perspectives all too frequently unseen in fiction; it’s all of these things, and that it seems so natural. In this anthology, every story takes a character (or two or three) who is often “othered” in fiction (and life), and makes their differences a part of the story. Readers will see themselves, they will see their friends, they will see their families, their cultures, their religious beliefs, their sexuality, their physical and mental states and they will see them as normal, as okay, as special. Not othered. Important and relevant and very very good, Kaleidoscope offers a powerful message to our society about difference, and about what we, as readers, want (and need) to see in our stories.

Some pieces, such as Tansy Rayner Roberts’ “Cookie Cutter Superhero”, offer a biting commentary on popular culture, couched in humour and teen spirit; others, such as “Seventh Day of the Seventh Moon” by Ken Liu, take a gentler approach, examining first love with a fantasical twist. Some stories shade darker, as with “The Legend Trap” by Sean Williams (set in his Twinmaker universe, an added bonus for fans) and “Kiss and Kiss and Kiss and Tell” by E.C. Myers; still others take a familiar trope and turn it sideways, like Faith Mudge’s “Signature” and “The Lovely Duckling” by Tim Susman. Some of my favourite works in the book were those that embedded the story in the protagonist’s nature, like the magic of Jim C. Hines’ “Chupacabra’s Song” and Karen Healey’s astonishingly good “Careful Magic”. There are so many wonderful stories in the pages of Kaleidoscope that every reader will find a favourite (or two or three), and every reader, teen or adult, will find at least one that speaks to them in deeper ways.

Thank you to the publisher for my review copy of the book. Kaleidoscope will launch on August 5, 2014 and can be preordered here.

Review cross-posted to Goodreads.

Supporting diversity in Young Adult fiction

newtppkaleidoscope-300x196As a secondary school teacher librarian by trade, and a passionate lover of YA fiction by heart, I am frequently asked by other library staff and readers for recommendations of young adult fiction that features protagonists who are not necessarily white, straight or able-bodied. So many of our students and reading clientele experience life through a lens that is different to what the majority of YA fiction presents as “normal”, and it’s just heartbreaking to have so little to offer with a protagonist outside of this range.

I read extensively. I have judged for several Australian awards, both within the speculative fiction field and the general Young Adult and Children’s area. It’s far too rarely I come across a protagonist who is disabled, or queer, or mentally ill, or simply not from a white European background, and I even more impressed when the aspect of “difference” (such as it may be) is not THE plot of the book, but rather is simply an aspect of the character.

It’s possible publishing is improving in this area. We do see more lesbian and gay and other non-straight, non-cis gendered characters in our YA fiction, though more frequently as the “best friend” or other secondary role than the protagonist. We are coming across more inclusion of disability (physical and intellectual) or mental illness in stories, though again, less frequently as the main character. Love it or hate it, television shows such as Glee demonstrate to market forces that non-straight, non-white, non-able bodied characters don’t negatively impact on the popularity of a franchise. And the more books like Eon (Alison Goodman), Pantomime (Laura Lam), Guardian of the Dead and The Shattering (Karen Healey), Nightsiders (Sue Isle),  Hunger (Jackie Morse Kessler), The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf (Ambelin Kwaymullina), Ash (and others, Malindo Lo), Liar (Justine Larbalestier), and Akata Witch (Nnedi Okorafor) that are published and sell well, the more chance there is of more books featuring protagonists other than those who are straight, white able-bodied and mentally well.

And here is a project that aims to do just that. Kaleidoscope is an anthology of diverse contemporary YA fantasy stories. Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios are co-editing the anthology, which has a planned release date of August, 2014. Right now, Alisa and Julia are running a Pozible fundraising campaign to make the project happen. If you want to see more diversity in YOUR Young Adult fantasy and science fiction, I recommend it to you.