Ash by Malinda Lo

Ash coverClassic fairy tales have become ubiquitous in pop culture, from TV shows and films to comic books. Published in 2009, Malinda Lo’s debut novel predicted the current popularity of fairy tale adaptations. Her re-telling of Cinderella is an exploration of loss, wonder and courage. Particularly the courage to be yourself.

Lo includes the familiar evil stepmother, boorish step-sisters and magic, but she adds darker elements which provide welcome relief from the saccharin cartoons you are likely most familiar with. Ash is a real teenage girl with complex emotions pulling her in different directions: “She wanted to kick the gravestone; she wanted to tear the earth beneath which her mother lay and pull the body out of the ground and shake it until it gave her an answer” (p 121).

Ash has lost both her parents, and her closest companion is a brooding Fairy named Sidhean who initially warns Ash away from the temptations of Fairy life, but ultimately binds her to himself with magic. Life among the Fairies is far from magical for the humans trapped there, yet compared to her life of drudgery even false glamour is appealing.  It is Sidhean, not a fairy god-mother, who provides her trip to the ball. The delightful twist is that while the Prince is enthralled with her, Ash only has eyes for the king’s Huntress.

Ash’s path to self-understanding is believable and sympathetic. Lo’s prose is beautiful and her descriptions perfectly compliment the shifting mood of her story. Anyone who has ever wished that Cinderella’s happy ending featured a Princess, not a Prince, will love this novel. It is published by Little, Brown specifically for young adults, and would especially appeal to lesbian teens. However, anyone interested in fairy tales or classic fantasy will find much to enjoy in this novel.

This interview style review from the Bitch magazine YA Book Blog features the diverse opinions of three readers. Aaron Hughes at Fantastic Reviews also provides his perspective.

Take a look at the book trailer:

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Huntress by Malinda Lo

Huntress coverThis is a classic quest/good versus evil fantasy tale starring two seventeen year old girls, Kaede and Taisin. Both are students at The Academy, a school for aspiring sages. One of them is highborn and the other is not. Though they barely know each other, they are chosen to travel together to the fairy city to meet with the mysterious Fairy Queen in an effort to stop whatever evil force has thrown the world out of balance. The night before they are told about this quest, Taisin has a frightening premonition which sets up the emotional tension of the novel.

These are very familiar elements to any fan of fantasy fiction, yet Lo’s beautiful writing and skill at emotional exposition make this story rewarding and compelling. For example:

“Why are you afraid of your feelings?” she whispered. Taisin bit her lip. She looked away from Kaede; she looked down at her hands; they twisted together as if she were trying to weave a rope around her wrists.”

Lo respects both her characters and her readers by avoiding predictable outcomes and giving each character depth. I love that the cover art makes it clear that the characters in this tale are Chinese, and elements of Chinese culture are present throughout the book. Lo brings new possibilities to a genre that is all too often bogged down in restrictive tropes and endless description, and not just because the heroes are young Asian lesbians. Her characters are not stereotyped: they learn from their experiences, work through their fear, and fall in love. They save the world and it doesn’t take 600 pages. This engaging book will appeal to readers who like quest fantasies, or stories about girls discovering their strengths and having adventures.

Watch the book trailer at the Malinda Lo blog. Read a review at Bookishcomforts, or one by Brit Mandelo at Tor.com.

The Boy in the Dress written by David Walliams and illustrated by Quentin Blake

The Boy In The Dress is television comedian Walliams’ first book.

The story is about Dennis, a twelve-year-old soccer lover, who lives with his older brother John, and their father, who resorts to eating to cope with his divorce from the boys’ mother.  Dennis finds interest in women’s fashion and comfort in his mother’s old clothing, and it is here that he discovers that he enjoys cross-dressing. He remains shy and wary of sharing this discovery with his family and friends until his father catches him with a copy of Vogue. His father is outraged, and his brother calls him “Denise.”

theboyinthedressHe meets school idol Lisa Jane, and becomes friends with her when he is given detention as a result of a misguided kick. She convinces him to dress up in a wig and dress, and when he passes unnoticed as exchange student “Denise” at a local corner store, he decides, after much contemplation, to attend school dressed as a girl. While he does a good job of convincing many schoolmates, his cover does not last. When a soccer ball passes by him he can’t resist the urge to kick the ball. His wig falls off and his worst nightmare comes true as he humiliates himself in front of the whole school. On top of everything, he is expelled from the school. Just when it seems things are going all askew, the author adds a little twist, bringing a nice closure to the story.

I came upon this book quite randomly when the red cover caught my eye. Though quite thick, the white space and short chapters made it even more appealing. It is a good book that addresses some questions such as what it means to be different, and accepting who you are. While there were some moments that the story slows, and the UK monetary terms can be a little confusing, it is a book that I am glad to have come upon and can recommend as one that may help readers to manage some of the trepidation associated with being different.

Watch a short introduction by Walliams

or listen to the first chapter of the book.

Read more about the book from the Guardian, Trashionista, and the Daily Mail.

Out by Sandra Diersch

ImageIn light of the University of Alberta’s first institutionally-supported Pride Week, this posting showcases a high interest, low difficulty (Hi-Lo) book, Out.

With one year left in high school, good-looking student, Alex, has lucked out with a beautiful girlfriend, a part-time job and good friends to hang out with. Life seems perfect until the day he is caught off guard witnessing his father’s friend and church leader having an affair. What’s more, his brother Mark has started to change. Not only does he notice his brother exhibiting a different demeanor, he has become increasingly quiet and tied to home. It is only later that Alex finds out first hand, as Mark comes out to him, that his brother identifies as being queer. 

Driven by action, this book provides its readers with a chance to identify with the complexities of the protagonist’s life as he realizes more and more that his understanding of justice needs to be re-examined. We all reach points of time when our rose-coloured glasses come off and we experience the harshness of reality and disappointment in the adult world. This book addresses a time when Alex begins to see the gaps between what he had expected to see in life and what really is out there. It offers readers an opportunity to re-examine life’s hard lessons and experiences of disappointment and anguish.

Note: As this book deals primarily with the experiences of Alex rather than his newly out brother, Mark, the emphasis is on the initial impact of such a revelation. Due to the short length of this book, it does not allow for a full resolution or coming to terms between the characters. It provides a very relateable entry-point for someone going through a similar experience. It may also help those who are newly-out in anticipating the reactions that they may encounter from those around them.

A review of this book: CM: A Reviewing Journal of Canadian Materials for Young People

See the author’s official website

To find other titles dealing with homosexuality in YA literature, a reliable resource is the Stonewall Book awards sponsored by the queer round table found within the American Library Association (ALA) website. While these awards feature multiple categories, covering a variety of audiences and intentions, they also celebrate outstanding works of YA and Children’s literature dealing with the GLBTQ experience.