Currently Browsing: On Writing

Fantasy in YA Fiction

I grew up with an incredible love of high fantasy. How exciting to experience another world, where people often wielded swords and fought with magic! Early on, I consumed the Chronicles of Narnia, and I was obsessed with a number of other novels now out of print, but that featured worlds I could only ever visit in a book. In my late teens, the Lord of the Rings made its movie debut. I read the trilogy, and although it sometimes seemed to go forever, I couldn’t stop until I’d completely absorbed them. That’s when I made the distinction that a fantasy must always be longer, for the reader is completely at the mercy of an entirely new and foreign world. Most recently, I’ve delved in to the world of Game of Thrones, interspersed through my reading of younger fare, and yep…it’s pretty mature! But once again, my mind is intrigued and challenged by the intricacies of this unfamiliar world. So, for my fellow fantasy lovers, below are three of the YA fantasies I’ve read over the past year. While none are as innocent as the 1950s Chronicles of Narnia, or as complex as Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones, they do hold their own. Graceling by Kristin Cashore This first book in a series about those who are “graced” has all the elements I love. A strong heroine who knows how to fight but also overprotects her heart. A love interest who has the qualities that make a good hero—strength and confidence in fighting, but a heart for family and those who need a champion. The world is intriguing, and kings make good and terrible decisions while dealing with those who are “graced.” Of note…the book has violence, but nothing gratuitous, and talks about a girl’s first night with a boy. It is not explicit, but it may be a little mature for a more advanced Middle Grade Reader. Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson This fantasy felt unique in the fact that it has a Mediterranean feel to it, as opposed to a more Anglican type of society. I loved the almost Spanish influence in it, and the fact that it dived into politics. It covered quite a bit of adult themes concerning power and relationships, but the focus on the “Godstone” and the use of dark magic had some elements of Narnia that I loved. This book has some pretty strong violence in... read more

Steadfast Characters

This is our final post related to Cassie Beasley’s Circus Mirandus, and it gives me an opportunity to discuss something I’ve always liked but struggled with. I like characters that don’t change! There I said it. In so many pieces of advice written about character development, it’s espoused that a character must undergo a significant change. Now, I guess there could be some argument over what defines “change.” Is it an overall philosophy? Is it an attitude toward another character? Is it a point of view or even a simple single trait? All qualify as changes, but I find myself rooting for those characters who aren’t bad apples and must fight like mad to keep the batch from spoiling them. SPOILER ALERT: In Circus Mirandus, Micah loves his grandfather, a gracious and good man. Ultimately, he wants his grandfather to be healed by the Lightbender, but his immediate desire is to be with his grandfather and to share the magic in his stories and experience it for himself. He detests his aunt who does not believe her brothers stories and thinks both of them are foolish (we later come to know why she feels this way), but the point is Micah is fighting a force that wants to change him and change his goals. He is steadfast when his new friend Jenny tries to convince him that magic isn’t real. He constantly wars against his great aunt and her attempts to keep Micah away from his grandfather, and he refuses to accept the fact that his wish does not come as he wanted it to. Now, I suppose one could argue that change does occur. Jenny changes. The Lightbender changes. Some of the other characters change, and even Micah accepts a different outcome than the one he longed for, but fundamentally, he as a character does not change. I feel as both a writer and reader there is a place for stories like this. Sometimes the world around us changes–sometimes in a way that is not right or good or for the better. We need to see characters that refuse to give in no matter how difficult the surrounding circumstances. I have a vast of books I love with steadfast characters but what are some of yours. Love to hear about... read more

Isn’t it Platonic: The best things about best friends in MG

The WWAT crew just recently finished Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley. It was whimsical and heartfelt, and we all had things we really enjoyed about it. What gave me the most warm-fuzzies was the friendship between Micah and Jenny. They were a perfect example of opposites attract. Jenny helped keep Micah grounded, while Micah helped Jenny believe…in the magic of the circus. That’s one of the things I love best about middle grade fiction. In young adult fiction, friendships can get a little lost, or even decimated. As teens, we grow up and out of old friendships as our sense sharpen to a new perspective of the world. And that’s important, I guess. But oh how I love that the friendship in a good middle grade novel can carry a series to stardom. It’s the Harry-Hermione-Ron phenomenon, where the relationship between the main characters attracts the reader beyond the intrigue of the plot and the enchantment of the world building. In a great middle grade novel, if a good friend dies in the story, a little piece of the reader dies with that character. I also love how friendship forces a main character to grow. In Rebecca Stead’s Liars and Spies and R.J. Palacio’s Wonder, friendships motivate the main character to see the world with a little broader lens. It doesn’t demand a paradigm shift, like those in YA literature, but just a slight expansion of one’s horizon. And finally, I love the way a good friend can add necessary comic relief in a dark plot. Blackthorn Key did this with Christopher and Tom. Tom was practical, yet, at the same time, his comments are what made me laugh most often. What’s your favorite “friendship” in middle grade literature? You may have several. As always, the WWAT crew would love to hear about... read more

The Harmony of Fantasy and Reality

In Cassie Beasley’s Circus Mirandus, Micah searches for the Light Bender. Since Micah was little his grandfather has told him stories of this fantastic man. The Light Bender owes Micah’s grandfather a miracle. Maybe that miracle can save Micah’s dying grandfather. So, Micah searches for his magical circus; a miracle. He journeys to the Circus Mirandus with the help of a new friend. There he learns more about his grandfather, his own power, and to let go if he has to.   The term fantasy is often associated with an escape. But it can also secure us in our reality.  This is apparent in Circus Mirandus and stated on the inner cover of Claire Legrand’s Some Kind of Happiness: “But as the mysteries pile up, and Finley’s reality and fantasy start to collide, she realizes that if she wants to save the Everwood, she’ll first have to save herself. “ I almost put Some Kind of Happiness back on the bookshelf. That would’ve been a mistake. I wanted an adventure, something fun for vacation. It was, but it also promised to deal with depression and family problems. I wasn’t sure I was in the mood for something so heavy. But Legrand adds a light touch, even when taking the reader to the darkest part of the Everwood. Besides, I read the first line and refused to put it down. “Once there was a Great, sprawling forest called the Everwood. Magic lived there, and it lit up every tree and flower with impossible beauty. “ Those first lines are so important. And these resonated deeply with me. I’d been the girl standing beside the woods dreaming up a fantasy world. One in which I’d often drag my cousins into. I didn’t deal with the same heartbreak that Finley did in the story, but after reading it, I felt as though I could. Everwood brought Finley closer to her cousins and in turn closer to the family she just met at age 11. She made friends with outsiders and brought down barriers built high before her time. She learned the heaviness of secrets. By searching for magic, she found possibility, resilience, and learned to not keep her pain hidden. I loved this book. In Claire Legrand’s Some Kind of Happiness, Finley creates magic in a world full of secrets and heartbreak. In Circus Mirandus, Micah seeks it and it becomes his reality. In both, I found myself strengthened by story. And... read more

What Hooked Me in Cassie Beasley’s Circus Mirandus

Megan: Circus Mirandus. I have to say, when our group took this book on, between the title and the cover, we were all like kids with saucer-shaped eyes. I mean, it’s a circus. Kids LOVE circuses. Grown-up kids like them just as much. But you know what hooked me? What makes me want to say, “Read this!” to everyone between 10 and 82 (or maybe older, I don’t know why the cutoff has to be 82)? It’s because of friendship. I truly believe that any book–any book that really digs into your heart and doesn’t let go–comes down to the relationships in it. For young adult, this is often a romantic relationship. But I think that’s what I love about middle grade. I love the focus on platonic friendship. This book gives us Jenny and Micah, and as one ascribes to magic and one doesn’t, you can see how they change and help each other. And maybe, best of all, help solve problems that seem out of reach–together. John: I was drawn in by the tenacity of the main character. I think he had such an impact on me because I tend to write characters like this–characters that don’t want to change; from the start, they cling desperately to the purpose or cause they believe in. In Circus Mirandus, Micah loves his grandfather and believes his stories when no one else will. He defies an aunt that makes Lemony Snicket look like a saint and fights to convince Jenny, his new friend, of the reality of magic, but no matter the obstacle, he refuses to give in. While I love a character like Scrooge–the greatest character ever to undergo a dynamic change, I’m also drawn to characters who refuse to let the tempestuous world swirling around change them. Jess: I got to visit a magic circus. It was wonder and adventure that hooked me. I listened to part of this book on the road and couldn’t help looking down every street and into every tree grove. Could that overgrown lot be an invisible circus? If you believe in magic, then maybe. In Circus Mirandus, the fantastical was Micah’s escape, his connection to family/friendship, and his instrument of letting go. That’s the power of fantasy. Imagining leads to exploration and possibilities. Much can be discovered when one is open to magic in the... read more

« Previous Entries